New Stories from the Mabinogion #5: The Tip of My Tongue by Trezza Azzopardi

The Wales Readathon, aka Dewithon is being hosted by Paula at Book Jotter. It’s running throughout March. Here is what I thought about my second Welsh read this month:

Azzopardi was born in Cardiff to Welsh/Maltese parents. Her first novel The Hiding Place was shortlisted for the 2000 Booker Prize and was set in the Maltese community in Cardiff’s Tiger Bay. It tells the story of the Gauci family, as narrated by Dolores, the youngest of six daughters (Azzopardi is the youngest of six girls too).

The Welsh publisher Seren launched their ‘New Stories from the Mabinogion’ series back in 2009 – giving Welsh authors the opportunity to retell the stories in the Celtic Myth Cycle. You can read my reviews of some of the others here, here and here.

Azzopardi’s contribution was added in 2013, and she takes on the tale of Geraint, son of Erbin, a knight of Arthur’s court who falls for the strong-willed Enid who will not be silenced. Simply put, it’s a battle of the sexes! Enid is repeatedly challenged to keep quiet, but ultimately has to speak out to save the day.

Azzopardi translates this tale from medieval romance into the relationship between young cousins thrust together and sets it in the 1970s in the Cardiff area of Splott, (it’s real, I checked). Our narrator is Enid, who is nine or ten years old. She lives with her Welsh mum Maria and Italian father, she is spirited and always full of questions, but is also in training to be a spy, as you are when you’re that age! She is desperate to have a dog – they keep talking about a black one.

My mother is Maria Bracchi, and she is also an Illustrious Poet, which my dad has told me means she is famous. Her real name is Maria Kilbride but when she married my father she became a born-again Italian, so she says, even though my dad’s from Merthyr Tydfil. She is Illustrious though, that is really true because she’s had her picture in the South Wales Echo twice and sometimes gets her poems done in little books. The Muse disappeared from my mother when she got the letter from Uncle Horace. My mother says her Muse is like a narky friend who can really help you but only when they want to.

Maria is panicking over getting the house spick and span for the Erbins are visiting: Uncle Horace, Aunty Celia and young Geraint. They’re bringing the Rover, and Enid is enthralled that they have a dog – only to be disappointed when she discovers it’s a car. They go for a spin – and she is car sick! Earlier, her mum and Celia had been busy discussing something about the end of April, which Enid remembers is when her mum had to go into hospital. Maria and Celia continue talking in code:

So, you know, we’ve discussed it and it seems for the best, given the circs with Carlo’s depression and all.

And this would be when? asks Aunty Celia, with her eyes on me.

They’ll let me know, says my mother and she leans over and pushes her nose in my ear and whispers to me, What are you up to, nosey?

And then to Aunty Celia she goes, But soon.

So Enid goes to stay with the Erbins, trying to get along with Geraint who is not interested in her questions, little knowing her mother is very ill indeed. Like the medieval lovers, the modern Enid and Geraint will have many trials to face over the coming weeks, some of Enid’s own making and misunderstanding, others instigated by Geraint, and she will have to decide her own course of action – speak up or stay schtum.

Azzopardi’s young heroine is sparky and impossible not to like. Geraint is the typical bossy slightly older cousin and you hope that Enid will get the better of him, or at least that they’ll have a truce. Although there are a couple of desperately sad moments in this short novel, which almost brought a tear to my eye, Enid is an eternal optimist with a light-hearted attitude towards life, winning over Aunty Celia and Uncle Horace (as long as she’s not car-sick too often!); naturally she is the apple of her father Carlo’s eye.

The author captures Enid’s voice brilliantly, the text with its Capital Letters for emphasis, matter of fact nature and lack of speech marks is written just how she’d speak. The first half of the book unfolds at a leisurely pace, allowing us to get to know Enid really well. I laughed with her all the way through. The second half is more compressed by comparison, but that’s a small quibble.

The novel is complemented by series editor Penny Thomas’s Introduction, her synopsis of the story of Geraint and Enid, and Azzopardi also writes an afterword about how she rewrote the tale. The Tip of My Tongue is another great read from the New Stories from the Mabinogion series, I’ll leave you with one last funny quote. (8/10).

Geraint is having a moody over by the wall, so we all go indoors and Aunty Celia says, I think this calls for a little Celebration, which is Morse code for everyone having a gin and tonic and some peanuts.

Source: Own copy. Trezza Azzopardi, The Tip of My Tongue (Seren, 2013) paperback, 192 pages.

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10 thoughts on “New Stories from the Mabinogion #5: The Tip of My Tongue by Trezza Azzopardi

  1. Calmgrove says:

    I’m reading instalments of this series at intervals. I’ve found the retellings uneven in quality but from your sympathetic review this sounds a cut above, a definite one for me to look out for in the bookshop or library.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I don’t think I’ve read any of the ones you have from our previous conversation on this. This was a good one.

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