No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Thursday, February 21, 2013

2013/03: The White Trail -- Fflur Dafydd

She was always showing him the light in things, the whiteness. When they first met it would pain him when she left the room, as though the light were leaving too. The day she disappeared happened to be the shortest day of the year.
[location 88]

Cilydd and Goleuddydd are expecting their first child any day: then Goleuddydd apparently vanishes into thin air at the supermarket. Cilydd turns to Arthur, a private investigator who happens to be his cousin (the axiom that blood is thicker than water being the only explanation of why Cilydd would turn to a PI who'd never solved a single case) in the hope of tracking down either his missing wife, or the son he's never seen.

Goleuddydd -- or, rather, her body -- turns up in a pigsty, with a macabre message scrawled in blood on the wall. The child is not found.

Cilydd, at a loss without his fiery and tempestuous wife, becomes involved with a charity that supports people who've lost a loved one to that liminal 'missing persons' state: he also becomes involved, more intimately, with Gwelw, a woman whose husband just happens to be the stranger who Cilydd 'inadvertently pushed... off a cliff'. The two marry, and all seems well, until Cilydd receives an anonymous phonecall from someone who knows exactly what happened to Gwelw's previous husband. And meeting the caller opens up a whole new web of happenstance: a child who realises he's adopted, and the girl he's fallen in love with, who leaves a white trail wherever she goes ...

The White Trail retells the story of Culhwch and Olwen, from the Welsh Mabinogion. (It's one of a series of 'New Stories from the Mabinogion': I purchased several in Amazon's post-Christmas Kindle sale.) I might have noticed more of the allusions and references in the novel if I'd known the original better: as it was, the twists of the plot were surprising. I did feel the novel lost focus near the end, when the dastardly schemes of Ysbaddaden (and the hidden agenda of Arthur) are revealed: those revelations felt jarring, insufficiently signalled. But the imagery of the novel resonated with me, and the author's afterword made me want to go back to the beginning and read through the story again with new understanding.

I realised that I was concentrating too dutifully on what was present in the text, rather than searching for what was absent. I should, after all, have been looking for the gaps, the silences, for those things that didn’t quite make sense, things dense with meaning, well hidden – waiting to be brought to light. Those still, curious moments, where the action subsided and the characters lay exposed, flawed, human even. [Author's afterword: location 1548]

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