The Ugliest House in the World: Storiesby Peter Ho Davies
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Davies's worldly stories, reflecting his Welsh and Chinese heritage, delight in odd--and memorable--juxtapositions and counterpoints. Elegant and original, they travel "with an offhand grace" (Elle) from Coventry to Kuala Lumpur, from the past to the present, and from hilarity to tragedy. With its humanism and pointed wit, this collection "signals the debut of a major talent" (Chang-rae Lee).
At his best, as in the title story about the way in which a child's death polarizes a Welsh village, Davies exhibits a sharp, unblinking, persuasive view of human nature, as well as a deft hand at plotting: The deceptively quiet tale, somewhat distanced in its effect by the rather prissy voice of the narrator, builds to a moving climax and a haunting final image. Davies often demonstrates an uncanny ability for suggesting the outlines of character in speech: The narrator of the story, a physician and the son of the man blamed for the child's accidental death, is very convincing precisely because he seems so wilfully insensitive to the events that he's describing. The reader has to work to puzzle out what really has happened, and the labor is well rewarded. "A Union," a novella tracing the course of a strike in Welsh village in 1899, rings some unusual changes on a subject often reserved for melodramas. Davies is particularly good at catching the mingled affection and resentment shaping village life, and at suggesting the ways in which events can overtake even the most cannily arranged plans. Davies also has a clear affection for these characters, a quality not noticeable in some of the other stories, including the aggressively postmodern "Relief" and "Safe." The first deals with the survivors of the battle of Rorke's Drift, in which a Welsh company repulsed the attack of a Zulu army in South Africa. It dwells largely on flatulence, in what is meant to be a send-up of colonial icons, but the irony falls rather flat. "Safe," about the hapless adventures of an aging Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, has little new to suggest about the pair and seems rather wearily referential, more concerned with the duo as hazy icons than as actual characters.
Still, overall, there's sufficient energy and originality here to suggest that Davies is a writer well worth watching.
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Meet the Author
PETER HO DAVIES is on the faculty of the graduate program in creative writing at the University of Michigan. His debut collection, The Ugliest House in the World, won the John Llewellyn Rhys and PEN/Macmillan awards in Britain. His second collection, Equal Love, was hailed by the New York Times Book Review for its “stories as deep and clear as myth.” It was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a New York Times Notable Book. In 2003 Davies was named among the “Best of Young British Novelists” by Granta. The Welsh Girl was his first novel. The son of a Welsh father and Chinese mother, Davies was raised in England and spent his summers in Wales.
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