Originally published in New Welsh Review 95
Curious realities and unreliable narration scuffle for attention in Michael Nath's debut novel La Rochelle, set during the hostage crisis of 2004. Taking an off-centre seat in the playhouse of the protagonist's mind, the reader's view of what really happens on stage is skewed by the delusions and deviations of Dr. Mark Chopra, a chaste and passive neurologist infatuated with his drinking pal's girlfriend. When the girl, Laura, goes missing, the two men fail to spring into action, instead boozing their way through the two weeks that pass as Mark performs a tactical withdrawal into the works of Nietzsche and Cervantes, amongst others. As the story is slowly uncoiled "like a reel of film", Mark's not-so-desperate search for solutions subjects the reader to a seemingly never-ending deviation from the matter at hand; "full of holiday invitations from what we're meant to be thinking of, is our old friend the mind."
It is Nath's transcription of the thought processes of Mark that provide the novel's early hook, as the good doctor desperately attempts to take control of a narrative which initially casts him in a tertiary role. He uses the blank space afforded him by Nath to half-convince himself, and his audience, of his own importance. Volleying between crippling self-deprecation and delusions of grandeur, this deftly constructed voice is one of intriguing oppositions. Mark is erudite yet depraved, cultured yet uncouth. He contradicts himself, he contains multitudes. In other words, he's as real as any one of us. But as realistic and admirable a depiction of the deluges of the human mind that this is, it can't hope to sustain the reader's interest over the course of 280 pages. And so the novel begins to show its weaknesses, as you realise that Nath's adroit portrayal of the thought processes of one man is too often only slightly more interesting than the thought processes of any other person at any given time. Verbosity creeps in. The narrative starts to plod. You almost stop caring.
Despite having the tag-line "Based on the Beloved Book by Roald Dahl" emblazoned on its promotional posters, Wes Anderson's stop motion adaptation of Fantastic Mr Fox is not a children's film. At least, not in a conventional sense. Anderson's film may well be five-star-approved by the I-reckoning celebrity tabloid reviewer, and hoards of parents will have bundled their mini-mes into multiplexes across the country to see the film during half-term week, but the Texan auteur has created something in Fantastic Mr Fox that, although having a genuine multi-generational appeal, you do feel heavily leans toward a more mature audience.
Of course, Anderson's aesthetic lends itself to children's cinema superbly; his meticulously methodical cinematography, captivatingly cluttered mise-en-scéne and thick lashings of vivid primary colour create an attractive visual vehicle with which to tell the story of the extraordinary Mr. Fox. However, other aspects of Anderson's style do not make such a successful transition from quirky-films-for-adults to quirky-films-for-children. The dry humour which ran through the veins of Anderson productions such as The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007) is, I would wager, quite lost on a juvenile audience when pumped through Fantastic Mr Fox, and Anderson's use of understated sexual tension and malapropistic substitution is too frequent to be dismissed by a mere pantomime-dame-wink. In short, I am not entirely convinced whether there is enough beyond the entrancing aesthetic aspect of Mr Fox to keep children from wishing that their parents had taken them to see the latest animated offering from Disney or Dreamworks instead.
Originally published on the CREW Review website (swansea.ac.uk/crew/crewreviews) in October 2009
In the first line of the introduction to Seren's 'New Stories from the Mabinogion', Penny Thomas legitimately suggests that "some stories, it seems, just keep on going." Although the series editor then goes on to painfully romanticise such stories as being "a whistle in the reeds, a bird’s song in your ear", the opening eight words of this introduction are enough to suggest why Seren have commissioned this series. There is evidently a market for the modern retelling of ancient myths, as Canongate's recent sequence has shown, but the overriding impression is that the Bridgend publishing company are not simply cashing in on this apparent readership, but helping to create a Mabinogion manuscript for the new millennium. As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, almost a thousand years since the alleged origins of the myth cycle, Seren are ensuring that these ancient Welsh stories do indeed "keep on going".
For this series, the eleven tales of the Mabinogion will be retold by eleven contemporary Welsh authors, with two novellas released each October. Within the first two novellas released is Owen Sheers' White Ravens, a retelling of the second branch of the Mabinogion (Branwen, Daughter of Llyr). The re-imagined second branch is largely set during the Second World War, familiar territory for Sheers following 2007's Resistance, and moves between a lonely Welsh farm, the Blitzed streets of London and the green hills of neutral Ireland. Sheers partners the ancient myth of Branwen, a woman who suffers at the hands of those intended to protect her, with the long-upheld mythical belief that if the ravens leave the Tower of London then the kingdom of Britain will fall.