WARNING: May contain traces of bias and distain.
Rachel Trezise’s ‘Sixteen Shades of Crazy’ is set in the remote South Wales valleys village of Aberalaw, centred around the lives of Ellie, Rhiannon and Sian – three WAGS of a wannabe punk band called ‘The Boobs’ – whose lives are about to change forever when a drug-dealing Englishman named Johnny arrives at the village – where nobody ever arrives and nobody ever leaves.
Ellie is the rivulet through which we gain the greatest perspective of valleys life; an aspirant music journalist who dreams of one day leaving the valleys – a desire often trodden-on by Rhiannon. Ellie becomes infatuated with Johnny; he is someone with whom she can at last discuss politics and culture. She begins to re-discover pieces of her former self – a lost identity that the valleys had sucked the life out of long ago.
You’d have to have survived, or escaped the South Wales valleys to appreciate the startlingly accurate scene that Rachel Trezise paints in ‘Sixteen Shades of Crazy’; a colourless socio-cultural backcloth that is out of touch with the modern world; a festering pool of bigotry, racism and resentment of anything, or anyone deemed nonconformist.
More evident than Trezise’s apparent odium for the valleys is the recurring feminist spin – the men in this book are all bastards (except Marc who is punished for it by being coupled with a gob-shite). The feminist undercurrent emerges quite early when Trezise remarks that women wear the trousers in relationships because valleys men are, ‘too dozy for domestic altercations’. She’s right, though; there are new-born baboons more Machiavellian than most valleys boys.
Periodically, I found ‘Sixteen Shades of Crazy’ to be a little too close-to-home – and not just the bit where Ellie reveals to Rhiannon that she knows when Andy wants sex because he brushes his teeth with an electric toothbrush. The abrupt familiarity of the characters sometimes made my skin crawl; I felt like an atheist reading the Bible in church to reaffirm his raison d’être.
‘Sixteen Shades of Crazy’ is a very well written book about people who live in the valleys – and aimed at people who want to escape the valleys. This may be a bias opinion on my part, but twenty seven years of living among the same stereotypes and self-parodies found in Trezise’s book does that to a person – just like it did to Ellie.
If you want the tenacious perspective of a writer who has lived in the valleys, buy ‘Sixteen Shades of Crazy’. If you want to be hoodwinked into believing we all wear Dai Caps, sing a lot and find jobs that match our surnames, buy ‘How Green was my Valley’.