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Wales Book of the Year shortlist review: Sut i Ddofi Corryn by Mari George

16 Jun 2024 4 minute read
Sut i Ddofi Corryn by Mari George is published by Sebra

Jon Gower

If ever there was a book guaranteed to engender nightmares in a reader, this is it. If you’re a sufferer of arachnophobia, that is.

For this is a fiction chock full of spiders, which spin a web of connections not entirely unlike the novel’s plot.

Sut i Ddofi Corryn/ How to Tame a Spider is the debut novel by the Bridgend-based writer Mari George, who has previously published two poetry collections, Y Nos yn Dal yn fy Ngwallt and Siarad Siafins and here she switches literary forms with confident aplomb and a sure-footed sense of fun.


It’s a book which in large part measures out the lengths to which someone will go to rescue a loved one from harm. Muriel, a young Welshwoman who sees herself carrying around an old woman’s name, has ambitions to be an author.

But these are thwarted by self-doubt, that is until the day she stumbles across an old book, Llyfr Corynnod y Mwmbwls, (The Mumbles Book of Spiders) which, duly dusted off, turns out to be an arcane collection of recipes and remedies.

It not only provides her with darkly handy hints but ultimately with a very strange story she can write about. Name me another which is set in Port Talbot and Guatemala.

Turning its pages it transpires it variously contains the ingredients for a drink that would banish a maiden’s menstrual pain; instructions for baking a cake that, properly made, would guarantee a good night’s sleep as well as the makings of a liquid to get rid of warts.

Not to mention seemingly stronger stuff such as a soup that can bring about a baby.

Ancient words

Muriel, at the time aged thirteen, decided to try out one of the tamer recipes on her brother, to see whether the ancient words contained therein can get rid of the verruca on his foot.

She duly mixes up the necessary blend of dandelion, mint leaves, rosemary and bramble, along with a small piece of spider gossamer almost by way of decoration.

And it works, persuading young Muriel to then try something a bit more adventurous, but this time the book fails to deliver on its confident promise of enabling the reader to fly and the young girl’s hopes are duly grounded.

Which leads to the book of secrets being temporarily abandoned, that is until the time Muriel’s partner Ken is taken ill. Her reaction to the blunt diagnosis of cancer is to seek out the book again.

This time its advice leads her in the direction of a tropical spider, found in the jungles of Guatemala.

Its deadly poison can have miraculous effects if administered in the right way, so, shored up by hope, or possibly driven on by despair, Muriel leaves her home in Port Talbot and decamps to Central America.


There she has various touristy adventures, including one idyllic night of stars and music in the mountains before eventually reaching the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal.

Here she is determined to find a spider among the ceiba trees, catch it and extract the poison, as one does.

This is where the book moves through the fantastical gears, with colourful convocations of animals and meetings with highly intelligent and beneficent monkeys.

Then comes the eventual encounter with the arachnid she has been looking for, a spider marked with the shape of a fiddle, itself a good sign as her ailing husband Ken is a keen fiddler.

But as the book’s title tells us, it isn’t sufficient to find the spider, you also have to tame it, so Muriel, who has always been utterly scared of them has to cosy up to one and calm her fears.

I won’t give away the ending, but suffice it to say that it lends credence to Muriel’s long standing belief that love is itself a miracle.

This is an entertaining and inventive novel, but tender, too, for it maps out the dimensions of love, telling us along the course of Muriel’s overseas adventure about the more domestic one of her relationship with Ken.

Like the spider lurking on the book’s cover, Sut i Ddofi Corryn can weave a complex web to fully enthrall a reader.

Sut i Ddofi Corryn by Mari George is published by Sebra and is available from all good bookshops.

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