The Small Mine
By Menna Gallie
Edited by Jane Aaron
First published in 1962, this novel tells the tale of a young collier’s death in Cilhendre, a fictional village in the South Wales valleys. It vividly and sympathetically portrays how the Valley community and, in particular, its women struggle to come to terms with the sudden loss. Yet for all its tragic subject matter the book also conveys the warmth and gusto of the villagers’ lives.
In the ‘swinging’ sixties, long after nationalisation, Wales still has a number of privately owned small mines, with workforces of fewer than fifty men. Joe leaves his job with the Coal Board and goes to work in one such small mine, for more money but with much worse conditions. He pays a high price for his higher wage – meeting with a sudden death by industrial accident. An inquest into the cause of Joe’s death closes the mine on grounds of negligence, but the villagers are suspicious and point the finger not at an accident but at a local who had lost his job – giving rise to a vacancy that Joe then filled.
Menna Gallie (1920-90) was born and raised in Ystradgynlais, near Swansea. The Small Mine is the third of her six novels and was her personal favourite. This Welsh Women's Classics edition includes an introduction by Jane Aaron, Professor of English at the University of Glamorgan.
"Gallie's third novel forms a sort of trilogy of small-town Wales and the tensions that, at this novel's end, draw one of the key characters off to Nottingham in the wake of her lover Joe Jenkins' sudden death in a mine accident. Like her first, "Strike for a Kingdom," this novel takes place in the fictional but very vividly realized town of Cilhendre. The book opens with a depiction of being inside a coal pit and many of its best scenes take place within its depths. Within such darkness, the words do the detailing, and Gallie pays closer attention to nuances of character and shifts in mood as conversations ebb and flow that also made "Strike" justly her best-known work. "Small Mine" too deserves attention by any reader rediscovering her small body of novels about the Welsh."
John L Murphy
Categories: Fiction, Novels, Welsh Women's Classics
First Published by Honno: 31st October 2003