(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The event which opens The Old Devils is Malcolm Cellan-Davies’ receipt of the news that Alun and Rhiannon Weaver are intending to leave London and return to their old home and their old circle of friends in South Wales. This news is both welcome and unwelcome. Its welcome aspect is that the Weavers will bring a breath of life to what has become a stagnating environment. Alun Weaver is good company, an engaging talker to his men friends, still an attractive figure to their wives, and, moreover, a man with the glamour of celebrity. His wife, Rhiannon, was clearly a great beauty in youth, still regretted by Peter Thomas (with whom she once had an unlucky affair ending in abortion), still admired more platonically by Malcolm. Their arrival is accordingly looked forward to with excitement by almost all.

On the other hand, the Weavers also pose a series of threats. They threaten several marriages, through Peter’s continuing infatuation with Rhiannon, Sophie Norris’ readiness to restart an affair with Alun, and Gwen Cellan-Davies’ anger over having been jilted or rejected. Alun’s behavior also endangers the cohesion of the entire group of friends. Through the main body of the novel, there is a sense of strain beneath what seems to be a perfectly humdrum sequence of events, as this mixed and shifting group of old people entertain one another, have dinner together, go on excursions, and attend such innocuous public ceremonies as the unveiling of...

(The entire section is 532 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Old Devils tells of Alun Weaver, who has chosen to retire from his successful television career in London as a kind of “professional Welshman” and third-rate poet and return after thirty years with his beautiful wife, Rhiannon, to South Wales. The novel explores over a span of a few months the effect of this return on their circle of old friends from university days.

The old devils—a group of Welsh married couples all in their sixties and seventies—are retired. They do little else than reminisce about lost opportunities and a grander Wales and grumble about slipping dentures, dietary restrictions, and dwindling physical energies while drinking steadily, ignoring the large role alcohol has played in the mental, physical, and spiritual decay about which they complain. The men, however, are not alone in their reverence for the bottle. At the same time, their spouses gather elsewhere, ostensibly to drink coffee but more often to consume bottle after bottle of wine, to chain-smoke, and to pursue conversations about their marriages, sex, and assorted other topics in an atmosphere reeking of alcohol fumes and stale cigarettes.

The physical ill health these cronies worry about extends to the spiritual health of their marriages. With one major exception, the women in this novel are not only plain, hard, sharp, critical, or cross but also lack any reasonable relationships with their husbands that would make significant communication possible. Only Alun and Rhiannon, married for thirty-four years, seem still to have an appetite for life and love as well as drink, and most of their misunderstandings lead only to teasing, not to disaster. Yet their arrival arouses conflict among their old friends.

The conflict comes in part because their return revives memories of various youthful liaisons and indiscretions, and also because the egotistical Alun...

(The entire section is 772 words.)