By: David Lewellyn
Published by: Seren
Eleven is a novel told entirely in the patter of a thread of inner-office emails. We experience the characters of the book through the emails they send; and some of the emails they don’t send (saved as drafts). It is an interesting way to structure a book and allows for many unreliable narrators to lead a mismatched series of events.
The emails are sent over one day, specifically September 11th 2001. We see the normal life in the office until the twin towers fall and then we see the shock that follows.
Yet even during the world-wide panic, the office workers continue through their day almost the exactly the same way as before the event. This seems to be a comment on how normal life can seem to go on, despite a massive global event that will have an effect on the world for decades. The book is also a comment on the general numbness of modern society, and the role technology plays in this. So no matter what happens on the news the characters remain mostly indifferent. Perhaps they have been numbed by constant dramatic reporting on even minor events.
The book is an interesting one- especially due to its layout. Unfortunately its layout can also be annoying in places and dampens some of the impact of the book.
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’.
Title: The Tip of My Tongue
By: Trezza Azzopardi
The Mabinogion is a collection of Welsh tales from medieval times. Unfortunately they are often overlooked as a source of information on well-known legendary figures such as King Arthur; but also a huge and rich cast of lesser known characters. Aiming to fight against this lack of recognition, Seren commissioned a re-telling of the eleven stories of the Mabinogion. ‘The Tip of My Tongue’ by Trezza Azzopardi is one of the novels that were produced as a result.
By making her a child, Azzopardi brings the ancient figure of Enid to life. Azzopardi uses the ‘weapon’ of her tongue to provide an unreliable and humorous narration of the re-telling. Although inquisitive, Enid often doesn’t understand the tragic events that are gradually surrounding her. Her misunderstanding of situations often leads her to describe dark and brutal scenes with a lack of emotion. Juxtaposing a childish voice with horrible events, makes the book chilling as well as funny. It is this initial lack of comprehension that allows Enid to demand information. Through curiosity and many mistakes she begins the process of growing up.
Azzopardi has skilfully re-worked the original text into something fascinating, and well-written. It is also an inspirational book: as a result of reading it I will definitely also be reading both the original text, and the other re-tellings published by Seren.
By: Shani Rhys James
Accompanied by poems by: Gillian Clarke, Pele Cox, Carol Ann Duffy, Jasmine Donahaye, Menna Elfyn, Patrick Kavanagh, Amy Wack
‘Florilingua’ could have easily been a disconnected maze of paintings and poems. Yet it is much more than that. It is a story: a haunting tale of claustrophobia, and bedsits, and trapped female figures.
Expressive paintings of something as seemingly mundane as wallpaper are hard to pull off; yet Shani Rhys James’ thick layers of paint somehow get into the viewer’s head. Somewhere within the flowers and baths, wallpaper and crying women is a desperate message. It is a desperate message concealed with the mystery that naturally goes with words and paint.
The world that Rhys James and the poets present is purely female. However it certainly isn’t a celebration of femininity. Instead the women depicted look mournful. Their eyes are clouded forever with tears; and their pupils are so wide that they could be stoned. They are also not obviously women: they demand the viewer to look carefully in order to recognise gender. Although the face shape is right for women and girls, the hair is cropped short. None of the clothed figures have recognisable, breast-like lumps. What the figures are so desperately sad about is not immediately tangible either. They seem to be looking at something beyond the viewer. Maybe at a world they are ashamed of being part of? Maybe something has frightened them?
The only time that the women in both the paintings and the poems seem settled is when they are in the bath. The bath seems to symbolise a place without pressures. A place where a woman can lock the door, and be absent from the stresses of the world, at least until the water grows cold. Menna Elfyn describes the bath (in her poem ‘Bath’) as: ”My contented cell/My tiny cradle”. The poem makes reference to the trap that having children can be to women. Later she states “I submerge into tranquillity”, on the surface this description seems pleasant, yet it is eerily reminiscent of someone walking into the sea in order to kill themselves.
The collection ends abruptly with a Carol Ann Duffy poem and one of Shani Rhys James’ most impressive paintings. The painting is called ‘Small Head II’ and depicts a close-up of a girl’s face. Having such a powerful image accompanying an equally powerful last poem, leaves the viewer with a haunted feeling that reflects what the rest of the book is trying to express. The feeling that there is something wrong with society.