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.
Listen to Tishani Doshi read an extract from her novel, ‘Fountainville’:
Tishani Doshi's retelling of the story of Owain, or The Lady of the Fountain, completes Seren's 10-volume reworking of the Mabinogion by contemporary writers. The story of Owain, a knight of the Round Table, has a complex history and crops up in other cultures as well as in Welsh legend. Fitting then that Doshi, whose parentage is Welsh and Gujarati, should pick up the baton and run to India's rich mythological landscape. In an interesting afterword she cites a visit to remote Nagaland in north-east India, an article on "India's Rent-a-Womb Business" and the TV series Deadwood as among her inspirations. Interesting, too, to compare Doshi's story of Begum and her assistant Luna, who create wealth for their village with their surrogacy business, with the much more straggly original, a synopsis of which is also included – Doshi says she hopes her reshaping will not be taken amiss. On the contrary, she has conserved the spirit of the original while creating an engaging stand-alone. Reinterpreting an existing text can be restrictive but Doshi has opened up her own space within it.
See the full article: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/nov/08/fountainville-tishani-doshi...
Review from Planet
Tishani Doshi’s Fountainville, also part of Seren’s series, while not explicitly engaging with complexities of language and power, does scrutinise the structures of power which endorse the silencing and marginalisation of those who do not conform to, or are excluded by, a ruling centre, To do this Doshi draws upon a female character whose voice is a major influence in the events of the source tale. “The Lady of the Well” remains silent but it is her handmaiden Luned who, through her own vocalised agency, controls the destiny of Owain and the lady. In Doshi’s retelling, Luned appears as Luna, the manager of a surrogate pregnancy business owned by the enterprising Begum, Doshi’s Lady of the Well. Here, in Fountainville the impoverished women use the only power they have available to them to earn money for themselves – their fertility. Begum markets the surrogate womb business to rich childless couples by incorporating into her spiel the mythic fertility-giving properties of the fountain: a sacred well which sits at the heart of Fountainville and which the surrogate mothers must drink from every day. This is the unique selling point of Begum’s operation.
Not only does Nagaland (in the outer region of North East India) provide Doshi with the imagined topography of Fountainville, but also the sociological context. Fountainville, as a peripheral borderland, houses all that the civilised centre denies – prostitution, child trafficking, drug abuse, poverty, mental illness. The town is controlled by Mob bosses, pimps and drug cartels. Begum and Luna, as the Lady and her handmaiden, operate within the gaps of this lawless society, offering Fountainville women an element of control and respite. This is not exactly a fairy-tale resolution but a realistic answer to a violent and uncaring society. Faced with limited options, the women will use whatever tools available to survive. Fountainville reveals the lives of the marginalised and probes the consequences of myths which seek to impose a system of rule on a people. Like the source tale of “The Lady of the Well,” however, this is always complicated. It is Begum and Luna who survive when the delicate balance between the Mobsters collapses and anarchy spills over, and it is Begum and Luna who instigate the saving of Fountainville from the Mob coup.
Writers who rework mythologies often give voice to the silenced, however the most rewarding writing comes from those who seek to uncover the powers which are accountable fir the silencing of those voices. The Mabinogion often features women who vocalise disparity, cruelty and unfairness, regardless of the consequence. In this way both writers fruitfully engage with the Welsh myth tales and provide us with female characters who question the repressive functions of myth, and who understand the complexities and dangers of the voice in a world which would enforce silence.