Keeping Mum a psychiatric detective story which explores the effect of a dying language on its speakers and looks at how abuses of language might lead to mental illness.
Gwyneth's investigation begins with a police interrogation, then broadens to take in a mental hospital, where the subject is questioned by a psychiatrist. Finally she uncovers angels in a sequence of sonnets, finding messengers from another realm inside our everyday lives, speaking to us through depression and bereavement.
Usually Gwyneth Lewis writes one book in Welsh, then a completely different one in English. Only Welsh-speakers get to see how both sides of her work express the dual personality of her country. Ruth McElroy has described how Lewis's books mark 'a shift into a different gear of Welsh poetry of both languages - she is one of very few poets to be equally probing and technically sophisticated in both languages. Intuitively sensitive to the peculiarities of each'.
Keeping Mum started out as a translation of Gwyneth Lewis's last Welsh book, Y Llofrudd Iaith or 'The Language Murderer', but took on a life of its own. The plot, characters and location have been completely recast in English.
'The detective story is as much a structure as a requiem, and we may see that patterns and structures are themselves themes in her poetry. It is at once a religious and a scientific fascination, not with the structures and patterns that explain or console, but with those that mystify and make strange'
- Patrick McGuinness, London Review of Books
A Poetry Book Society Recommendation