By: Tishani Doshi
“‘Tell me the strangest story you know.’ He said.
And I did”
This is the second book of Seren’s retellings of ‘The Mabinogion’ that I have read; and the two couldn’t be more different. ‘The Tip of my Tongue’ had a little girl for a narrator, and as a result, a certain innocence about it. Doshi’s retelling is very definately a mature and controlled female voice.
It reminded me a little of Salmon Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’ in both tone and subject matter. Doshi evidently has a respect for storytelling, and bizzare mystery in a similar way that Rushdie does. In the afterword Doshi worries that her detachment from Welsh culture might damage her ability to retell a very Welsh tale; yet instead her knowledge of Indian myths adds a great deal to her style. As ‘Fountainville’ is a place purely built from Doshi’s imagination; she is able to draw parallels with contemporary life on an international scale. It is an intelligent way of bringing to light themes that are not usually mentioned, but should be. For example Westerners purchasing cheap Indian surrogacy. However there are also more obvious parallels, for example between the capture and death of the character Marra and the real life death of Osama Bin Laden. ‘Fountainville’ is also occupied with gangs, drug addicts, abusive husbands and child soldiers; bringing further international issues into a medieval Welsh tale.
The novel also reminds me a little of ‘The Hunger Games’; partly due to its brutal themes, and child soldiers; yet also due to Doshi’s unrelentingly strong female protagonists. ‘Fountainville’s treatment of pregnancy is one of the themes that shows this. In the book, pregnancy is at first described as something painful, and almost unnaturally scientific; but by the end of the book, the female leads have taken pregnancy back, accepting it as something precious, and deciding to keep their own children. This decision is also symbolic of the women taking back their traditions and lives from the (mostly male) gangs of ‘Fountainville’.