A portrait of the artist as a young dog: a few uneducated remarks

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog

Dylan Thomas

Dent 1958; 254 pages

Ten semi-autobiographical stories about Thomas’s life in Wales before heading off to London to become famous, Just how semi they may be, I cannot say.

Cover of hard back

Both sides

The stories aim at … well, not at thrilling with endless action or suspense, They are about capturing moments in a life, moments that either show a stage or show a transition, or, in the last one (‘One warm Saturday’), a might-have-been.

Free of the need for a through-plot, the author can focus on evoking places and memories, feelings. At this, the book is successful. A poet’s eye for a telling detail, arresting metaphor or image; these are the book’s main strengths. The likeability of young Dylan is not — not that he is especially unpleasant. Indeed, he often simply is, which is to the book’s credit; it seems free of axes being ground or morals being propounded,

Thomas writes a nice sentence, His characters are drawn effectively and economically. Howsoever that may be, the end of each vignette is an opportunity to put the book down and not pick it up again. Unless the little details of Thomas’s life and the puzzle of working out what in the book is a real detail are of interest, the book is not compelling in the commercial fiction sense. It is easy to read, striking in places, and interesting enough. I did not rush through it, but read another story when I felt like dipping into the book’s placid, ‘black & white photo of my grandparents’ kind of world.

Most definitely worth reading. I guess I ought to check out his poems; after all, he’s probably more famous as a poet and as the author of Under Milk Wood than as a writer of prose fiction.

Note on the edition: This is the 1958 printing of the 1940 first edition. It is a time-softened, well-thumbed hard-cover, ex-library, and somehow seems completely suitable to this text, which is more redolent of hard covers and newspapers than mass-market paperbacks and airports. I wonder if the format being suited to the feel of the content is really important; I suspect for a book like this, that trades in memories and evocations (and of a time now becoming quite long ago), it is quite important.


Of course, what would I know.

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About Darren

I'm a scientist by training, based in Australia.

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