New Stories from the Mabinogion #3

ronnies dream niall griffiths

The Dreams of Max and Ronnie by Niall Griffiths

See my previous post here for some background on this series of comtemporary retellings of the medieval Welsh story cycle the Mabinogion, and the first two titles in the sequence. 

The third book, The Dreams of Max and Ronnie to give its full title comprises two novellas based upon separate stories involving dreams.  It starts with Ronnie’s …

Ronnie and his mates are Iraq-bound.  They go to visit Red Helen to get a little something for a last hit before they ship out.  Ronnie takes his pill and falls asleep for three whole nights and has the weirdest dreams.  In them a ‘grinning man’ plays war games while armies and gangs of men from around the country get in the mood but wait like sheep for their orders.  In between Ronnie’s dream sequences, we have snatches of what’s happening in the real world …

And DUMPHA DUMPHA DUMPHA DUMPHA goes the soundtrack to Britain’s life, pounding and meaningless, to this stage in the growth of one of the oldest democracies on the planet. Apparently. Supposedly. Pounding and pulsing and unchangingly repetitive. Beating and battering, a cudgel. Sound of the cat-pissed house. Sound of the seemingly deserted village, shop gone, pub gone, chapel now a holiday home….  Thumping soundtracks unchanging like a diseased heart to the parks in which young people are kicked to death, to the dark skins that are slashed open or punctured, to the back rooms or garages on estates or in suburbs in which figures hunch over chemical that when mixed turn volatile, to bomb factory, to murder scene. To those that move, all of them alike, to those that trudge alone unheeded or those that band together to share hatreds and those that plead and those that sneer and those that beseech and those that disdain and those that thieve and those that lose and those that have their meagre belongings removed from them, to those that add another nugget of gold to the gleaming mountain range they already possess to those that bomb and those that are blown apart and those that are stabbed and all of them watched by a million mechanical eyes on lamp-posts and roofs, every twitch of every limb and every expression on every face monitored, every lost face that moves between giant signs that say nothing but DON’T DON’T DON’T DON’T DON’T and tannoyed voices filling the airspace that say nothing but DON’T DON’T DON’T DON’T DON’T and the millions of silent screams in the millions of heads that nod nod nod towards the grave and leave nothing but longing in the mud. And, before he is sent to fight for this, to kill for this and be killed for this, Ronnie sleeps on on his lucky moo-cow blanket and Ronnie goes on dreaming.

This wasn’t an easy book to read or love, yet it was extremely powerful as you can see from the slightly shortened paragraph above.  Nearly every page was protesting about (the Iraq) war, the futility of it all, the waste of life, and also people wasting their lives away, our celebrity culture in which every boy wants to follow the herd and be David Beckham or Robbie Williams, that you should always question the ‘grinning man’ (Blair).  The writing was by turns coarse and blunt, then poetic – these 90 pages or so make a very angry and pessimistic tale  indeed. The author in his afterword describes it as a Swiftian satire but that didn’t really come through for me.

By contrast, Max’s dream was a bit of a let-down for me.  The story of a gangsta and his crew.  Max is tired of his life of clubbing and whores in Cardiff – he wants a wife.  Hearing of a film being made up north, he sends his crew on a recce with his photo in the search for the perfect woman, but of course nothing is as easy as it seems.  If the first tale was angry, this was nihilistic and not as full of ideas, but equally condemning of the nature of Man.

A powerful addition to this series, but not an easy book to enjoy.  (7/10)

Source: Review copy – thank you.

Niall Griffiths, The Dreams of Max and Ronnie (Seren, 2010) paperback original, 192 pages.

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