Reading List (Blogger)
Back To My Roots
I am, as my family name suggests, of Celtic origin,
but my roots are actually more Welsh than Irish, so
I was more than happy to answer the call when Gary of
The Parrish Lantern pointed me in the direction of Seren
Books, a small Welsh independent publisher. After making
an enquiry, I was lucky enough to receive a review copy
of a book I liked the look of, Fflur Dafydd's The
White Trail. The book itself was a wonderful read,
but (as you will see) the individual story is just part
of a greater whole...
begin with the character of Cilydd, an ordinary middle-aged
man facing a slightly extraordinary problem. After a
trip to the local supermarket, his wife Goleuddydd,
fiery, temperamental and very heavily pregnant, has...
well, vanished into thin air. CCTV shows nothing, and
the police are unable to help, so Cilydd turns to his
cousin Arthur, a private investigator, for help in unravelling
the mystery. Eventually, there is progress in the case,
and poor Cilydd has to face up to some bad news.
The more he learns about what has happened, however,
the more confusing the whole affair becomes. He throws
himself into searching for details of the disappearance,
joining a network of people who have had similar experiences
and becoming a sort of secretary, a filer of information
about the disappeared. Then, many years later, events
take an unwelcome turn - and Cilydd begins to receive
some rather disturbing phone calls...
you think this book sounds a little left-of-centre,
you wouldn't be far off. This is not a Proustian study
of reality, but rather a more ethereal story of losing
a loved one and carrying on. If I were to attempt to
pigeon-hole it, I would have to suggest the genre of
magical realism, and there is something distinctly Murakami-esque
about proceedings. It's also peppered with wry humour
though, with Dafydd often eliciting a chuckle with an
ironic comment or two (as in the following example):
"The look, the one she fixed him with week
after week was actually tinged with desire, and in a
bizarre twist of fate he found himself making love to
her in a secluded spot in the community-hall car park.
It was the most wildly irresponsible and impetuous thing
he had done since he had inadvertently pushed her husband
off a cliff." p.61 (2011, Seren Books)
the astounding disappearance which sets off the story,
Dafydd sketches a chain of events in elegant and poetic
language, a style which enhances the fairytale-like
feel. At times, the prose is a mixture of myth and the
modern, further intriguing the reader:
"And so Culhwch, Cilydd and Arthur set out,
in the thick of night in Arthur's old carpentry van,
to find Olwen, daughter of Ysbaddaden Bencawr.",
is an image which definitely sticks in the mind...
hapless Cilydd is a man completely out of his depth
in a sea of unlikely occurrences, with his only possible
ally being Arthur, a private eye of Dirk Gently proportions
and someone who definitely has more to him than may
first meet the eye. As Cilydd stumbles from one surprise
to the next, the reader becomes just as eager as he
is to learn the full truth of what has happened. When
we do, it all begins to make sense - even more so on
a second reading.
all makes for an intriguing novel, one which I devoured
in a few hours, before reading it again more slowly
a few days later, but there is a lot more to The
White Trail than there would appear from just an
outline of the plot. The book is actually a retelling,
or reimagining, of a mediaeval Welsh folktale, Culhwch
and Olwen, one of the eleven stories making up
the Welsh-language collection of myths, the Mabinogion.
Seren Books have commissioned contemporary Welsh writers
to produce their own versions of the classic stories,
and there will eventually be eleven of these New Stories
from the Mabinogion. The White Trail is being
released in October (along with another book, The
Prince's Pen), bringing the number of books released
so far to six.
while taking inspiration from the original, has shifted
the focus somewhat in her version, making Cilydd the
main focus of the reader's attention and concentrating
on the way he copes with the disappearance of his wife.
You don't have to take my word for that though - the
writer tells us that herself. You see, another wonderful
feature of this book, in addition to a short summary
of the original Culhwch and Olwen, is an 'Afterword'
(like an introduction, but at the end) by the author,
in which she tells us about her experiences with the
Mabinogion and the process she went through
in adapting the myth to a modern story. In this, Dafydd
explains why she decided to shift the attention from
the young lovers featured in the original to the glum
Cilydd, and details some of the similarities and differences
between the two versions.
its own merits, The White Trail is a great
novel and well worth reading; as part of a series of
loosely-connected books, it is even more intriguing.
When you then throw in the idea of the original mythological
background, this becomes the kind of book that a lot
of people will want to read. I, for one, am very interested
in seeing what Dafydd's fellow writers will make of
the remaining stories - and I am also keen on obtaining
a translation of the Mabinogion itself (and
I know that there is a version available in the
Oxford World's Classics series). Maybe it really
is time to get back to my roots...