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John Rowlands: Lenctid yw’ Mhechod (A Taste of Apples)

Religion is important in Wales so it is no surprise that Rowlands’ short novel draws on religion. Emrys Rees is a minister in a small town in Wales. He is married to Gwen, a good minister’s wife. They have no children. Emrys is a conscientious minister, tending to his flock. At the beginning of the novel, he is off to visit Mrs. Richards, who is very ill. However, after seeing Mrs. Richards, he goes downstairs and has sex with Elsa, Mrs. Richards’ adult daughter. It turns out that they have been having an affair for a while, consummated every time he visits Elsa’s sick mother. Emrys is worried that Gwen may have suspicions and suggests to Elsa that they should go off together. He would find another job, outside the church, but Elsa cannot leave her sick mother. Before they have finished dressing, there is a knock at the door. It is the doctor. He goes upstairs to see his patient and announces that she is dead. Elsa is, of course, mortified that she was having sex with a married man while her mother was dying.

On his return home, Gwen brings out her suspicions and he confirms the affair, though telling her that Mrs. Richards has died. Gwen is understandably furious. We follow the thoughts of both Emrys and Elsa. Emrys remembers his passionate yearning for various women in his life before he settled down with Gwen, while Elsa remembers her relationship with Derek, a young man who wanted to travel round Europe with her but who then went off to university and never contacted her again. The next day, Gwen has calmed down and Emrys goes off to see Elsa and offer his condolences. Elsa tells him that it is all finished between them, as she still feels very guilty about having sex while her mother was dying. She confirms this in a letter to him. Meanwhile, Gwen visits Elsa and tells her that she is glad her mother died before she found out what a wicked girl Elsa is. Elsa insists that it is over between her and Emrys and Gwen withdraws her remark and apologises.

Gwen now tries to make it up with Emrys, saying that she wants children, and also talks of moving to another parish. Emrys, however, cannot forget Elsa and wants her back. He thinks about her a lot and when he learns that she is moving, he tracks her down, begging her to take him back. Gwen, of course, finds out about his obsession. Can a man put his duty before his passion, Rowlands asks and, just as importantly, should he? It is a relatively short story but well told, even if the ending is not entirely satisfactory.

Publishing history

First published by Llyfrau’r Dryw in 1965
First English translation by Library 33 in 1966
Translated by ichard Ruck