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Book review: Dylan Thomas: The Pubs

(December 01, 2013)

Book review: Dylan Thomas: The Pubs
by Jeff Towns and Wyn Thomas

Dylan Thomas: The Pubs - Jeff Towns - Book cover

With the centenary of Dylan Thomas' 1914 birth nearing; it is unsurprising that we should expect a few more volumes on Wales' most celebrated poet appearing on the bookshelves. The problem with any new book on Thomas is to find a new perspective, a fresh approach to a man who is already buried under a plethora of biographies that began no more than three years after his infamous death in New York in 1953.

Dylan Thomas aficionado, Jeff Towns enters the arena with Dylan Thomas: The Pubs, a vaguely chronological journey through the watering holes frequented by the late, great poet. Before Towns leads us into the first establishments in Thomas' home town of Swansea, the author sets out a very personal defence of Thomas' relationship with drink. His view casts Thomas as a raconteur, a social creature, whose love for the company and interaction of others forms his fondness for public house life, and not as a person who is guided by alcohol. It is only in his later years, as he switched from his much loved beer to harder spirits, that led to his demise.

Dylan Thomas at The Bush, SwanseaThe Bush Hotel's landlord, Rev Leon Atkin and Dylan; his last drink in Swansea

The book is divided into three main sections, each exploring the more notable pubs frequented by Thomas, in Wales, England, and the United States. Each of the buildings explored begins with a potted history of the establishment, before weaving in the stories and writings that connect them to Thomas. Each pub is handsomely researched with any little reference that may or may not link them to Thomas' writing rewarded with snippets of prose, friends' recollections or one of the hundreds of tall stories that cling to Dylan's persona. The closing paragraph on each pub is completed with an account of its current status, or fate.

Dylan Thomas - White Horse TavernThe tragic, poignant last photograph of Dylan Thomas in the White Horse Tavern, New York
the beer pots are left on the counter and it is whiskey shots for Dylan now. In a few days he would be dead

 

Although a biography of sorts, by following Thomas' journey through the pubs, bars and other drinking dens, Towns has created a far warmer and more personal recount of Dylan's life than the many more scholarly attempts that have gone before, and it succeeds in constructing a rounded and devilish portrayal of the (in)famous poet and writer. Towns' writing is enjoyable and well structured, and despite suffering from a clutch of exclamation marks, his respect and devotion to Dylan's work pours through the pages. The book is well supported by photographs, documents and posters, several of which have not been published before, though the supporting illustrations of the pubs by Wyn Thomas come across as a little too architectural for my own personal taste.

 

Browns Hotel, Wyn Thomas The Queens Hotel, Wyn Thomas
Browns Hotel, Laugharne
Illustrated by Wyn Thomas
The Queens Hotel, Gloucester Place, Swansea
Illustrated by Wyn Thomas

In Dylan Thomas: The Pubs, Jeff Towns and Wyn Thomas have succeeded in delivering a book that not only finds a place on a heavily burdened bookshelf of works on Wales' favourite poet, but have created a volume accessible to the lay reader that will also delight those who have travelled this road before.

Steven Jones, December 2013

Dylan Thomas: The Pubs, by Jeff Towns and Wyn Thomas, is published by Y Lolfa, Talybont, and is available in hardback at £19.95 and in paperback at £12.95

 

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