One of the less well known Mabinogion stories, ‘Rhonabwy’s Dream’ tells the story of a man who falls asleep in a filthy hovel and has dreams of Arthurian splendour, knights, battles and games of chess. In Niall Griffiths’ hands this tale of duty and the responsibilities of power becomes the story of a squaddie bound for the Iraq war, and a biting commentary on the tribes of twenty-first century Britain.
In the second part of the book Griffiths reworks the Mabinogion’s ‘Dream of Macsen Wledig’, a classic myth of an Emperor (Macsen) and a beautiful princess (Helen) whose family saves his empire from a usurper. In his typical trademark style, Griffiths reworks this story of love and loyalty as the dream of a seedy South Walian nightclub owner, Max, intent in revenge on a rival North Walian gang.
"You might not expect to find Niall Griffiths, a writer whose novels include Grits, Sheepshagger and Stump, poking around among obscure variants of Arthurian legend. Yet he states that however far he travels from Wales, 'the Mabinogion follows me there like luggage'. Griffiths points out that his ancient source material contains highly developed elements of satire: "Not until Monty Python and the Holy Grail would Arthurian myth and its notions of chivalry face such bombardment"; and his stories acquire a unique form of gritty Celtic realism, in which a young soldier bound for Iraq takes a potent tranquiliser and experiences a lurid dream in which a sinister, grinning overlord plays a barbaric game of chess with the infidel. The accompanying tale transforms Maxen Wledig, emperor of Rome, into Max, the big cheese of a nightclub called Rome, who unwisely falls for a seductive extra 'in a film based on some old national poem or something'. Griffiths also supplies the best sign-off of the series so far: 'The story ends here. It's not over, it's not finished. But it ends here.'"
Alfred Hickling, The Guardian
Niall Griffiths lives near Aberystwyth, and has published six novels to date. His 2004 novel, Stump, won the Welsh Book of the Year Award. His novel Sheepshagger was published to critical acclaim in 2002 (Vintage). Niall is also the author of the offbeat, psychogeographic guides Real Aberystwyth (2008) and Real Liverpool (2009), also published by Seren.