review by Maryom
"Fountainville is a strange, lonely town on the edge of everywhere, with
its own healing secrets, as revealed by Luna, assistant to Begum, the
Lady of the Fountain, in this retelling of celtic Mabinogion myth by
poet and novelist Tishani Doshi. Under their care the town flourishes,
but when the mysterious Mr Knight arrives at their house of 24 women
everything begins to change. Aided by Rafi, the giant of the woods and
the all-action Leo, events begin to unravel fast for Luna and Begum."
Fountainville is part of Seren's series New Stories from the Mabinogion, in which a variety of authors re-tell the ancient folk-tales in new and surprising settings. In it, Tishani Doshi takes The Lady of the Fountain and transports it from Medieval Wales to modern day Asia, from a world of castles and knights to one of rent-a-womb pregnancies and drug lords.
I wasn't familiar with the original, which is one of those slightly rambling stories of knights fighting other knights for no apparent reason other than that's what they do, beautiful ladies living in castles waiting for the victor to claim them, strange exotic beasts roaming the countryside etc etc. Despite being called The Lady of the Fountain, the lady herself seems a rather peripheral figure and it feels that the focus of the story may have been lost over centuries of re-telling. As you would expect from a modern story, Fountainville has more form and structure to it - a proper beginning, middle and end. The emphasis of the story has changed too, moving from the knight Owain to the women - from passive figures decorating the background, they, and their health-giving fountain, now take centre stage. I felt a little that the connection to the old story was less strong than in some of Seren's series but this may be down to my only reading the original afterwards.
The author's afterword sheds light on the creative process that changed The Lady of the Fountain into Fountainville - the coincidence of catching a documentary on the surrogacy business, the development of the new story and it's changed emphasis. She also mentions two alternative paths the re-telling could have taken - a lion escaped from a circus or a war-time story about a French wish-giving well. I'd really love to read both!
Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Seren Books
Genre - adult literary fiction, folk tales
Reviews for some of the other stories from this series, and an interview with one of the authors can be found elsewhere on the blog
Buy Fountainville (New Stories from the Mabinogion) from Amazon