White Trail by Fflur Dafydd
Gwen Davies, New Welsh Review
- 26 September 2011
"It's Raining Fish, Halleluja!
And Other Magical Songs"
Fflur Dafydd writes in the current issue of New
Welsh Review about the genesis of her second English
novel, The White Trail, published on 18 October.
An update of ‘Culhwch and Olwen’, this latest
addition to Seren’s New Stories from the Mabinogion
series is a triumph. A feminist interpretation, its
theme is the need for independence from loved ones,
even though the failure of her story’s catalyst
to cherish her own husband and unborn baby ends in tragedy.
‘The white trail’ of the title is Dafydd’s
translation of ‘Olwen’, a girl in whose
wake white flowers spring. The original symbolism of
this motif is transformed from that of passive female
allure – a trail of petals – into a bank
of stubborn plants that won’t be picked. Take
two heavily-pregnant female foils: Goleuddydd (feisty
fireball, capricious) and Olwen (more your traditional
docile model), add a third, calm, competent (past post-partum!)
Gwelw, and we have a tableau of female types which sends
up the Medieval stories’ questing for the perfect
Malcom Pryce-alike mash-up of detective story with magic
and mayhem is a winning combo. The nascent political
subplot is curtailed by the novella format so that we
start to learn of Health Ministry mess-ups but soon
cut back to frenzied action involving pigsty births,
abductions, rape and suicide. The White Trail
sees a return to Fflur’s parody of the crime thriller
which she first explored in the Daniel Owen prize-winning
Y Llyfrgell. But since this author is so clearly
interested in public affairs, a broader satire of Assembly
doings is sure to follow.
more magic in the magazine’s winter issue, now
in production. Transvestite magician Chiqui is the inspiration
of Christien Gholson’s debut A Fish Trapped
Inside the Wind and the novel’s design features
on our cover as well as in Reviews. Siân Melangell
warns that the plot isn’t easy to follow. But
I found Gholson’s distinctive mix of eighties’
industrial smalltown Belgian life and folktale less
puzzling than intriguing, once I went with the flow.
Why had the dance troupe ‘got naked at the Vatican’
and who is waxing Biblical about bells, crows, and fish
rained down from the heavens? With its chapter sections
dedicated to roles (The Seer, The Player etc), this
novel reminded me of the fiction of Jenny Erpenbeck,
the subject of Patricia Duncker’s essay in the
current magazine. Patricia gently accuses Michel Faber
(author of The Crimson Petal and the White)
of exaggerating Erpenbeck’s originality. We need
character and plot in fiction more than Modernist archetypes
and mystery, she suggests. I would counter that we need
all four at different times, depending on our fancy.
After all, as www.pottermore.com proves, you can never
have too much magic.
version of this was first published in the Western
Mail on Saturday 24 September in Gwen's Insider