A blog for everything bookish

Saturday 27 July 2013

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Continuing on the theme of the Canongate myths, Margaret Atwood took the myth of the Odyssey and told it instead from the perspective of Penelope, Odysseus’s long-suffering, abandoned wife. In the Penelopiad, Penelope has already passed on and is reflecting on her life, and her legacy as the ultimate devoted wife.

I love The Odyssey, it is a story wrapped in adventure and excitement and Odysseus, of course, is the trickster hero who gets by on his wits rather than his strength or any particular power. In The Peneopiad, Atwood asks us to consider the wit of Penelope who fooled the suitors who threatened to unpick her kingdom and swallow her up into an unwanted marriage. Juxtaposed against Penelope’s story is the ‘chorus’ the twelve maids who were hanged by Telemachus for their disloyalty, accused of flirting with the suitors and slandering their masters. However, in typical Atwood fashion, there’s an interesting twist on that story.

The Penelopiad is a dryly humorous read which reflects on the thinness of the stories of the women from classical mythology, and it is not so surprising that Atwood, with her reputation for feminist stories, has taken this story on. It is well written, amusing, and I loved the use of poetry for the chorus of slave girls whose story, more so than Penelope’s, is lost in history. It gives it a real authenticity as though, perhaps, it had really be written by the Greeks.

Penelope’s character also comes across very strongly, Atwood really brings her to life. It could be tragic, and she could be spending eternity feeling sorry for herself, but yet somehow the character manages to be at once bitter, angry, jealous and disappointed whilst being strong and clever and certain, a character with a measure enough of her own trickery. She builds, here, a real human story. In the end it leaves you wondering who was the greater hero? The one who followed his wanderlust, who travelled the seas searching for adventures and wars and monsters and beasts, or the woman who stayed home and became mistress of her own domain, plagued only by an annoyance of men and a guilty conscience about her part in the deaths of the maids.

It would do the book an injustice if I didn’t spare a moment to reflect on the characters of the maids who, Atwood proposes, were the victims of their sex and lowly status. There is probably  more than an element of truth in that. Instead she shows us some girls who are loyal and feisty and who do their best with the life they were given, and which was cruelly taken away. We see them as women, with bodies that barely belong to them and whose role is that of accessory, sub-text, secondary character, plot device or somesuch other minor function but who in truth are as real as you or me. In a lesser hand there could be something purely judgemental or mawkish about it, but Atwood writes with such verve and life and vivacity that she brings those girls to life and makes them funny and vibrant and wonderful.

All in all a very enjoyable read. The Penelopiad receives a historically accurate 9 out of 10 Biis. And the last word, I leave to the maids....

Yoo hoo! Mr Nobody! Mr Nameless! Mr Master of Illusion! Mr Sleight of Hand, grandson of thieves and liars!

We’re here too, the ones without names. The other ones without names. The ones with shame stuck onto us by others. The ones pointed at, the ones fingered.

The chore girls, the bright-cheeked girls, the juicy gigglers, the cheeky young wigglers, the young bloodscrubbers.

Twelve of us. Twelve moon-shaped bums, twelve yummy mouths, twenty-four feather-pillow tits, and best of all, twenty-four twitching feet.

Remember us? Of course you do! We brought water for you to wash your hands, we bathed your feet, we rinsed your laundry, we oiled your shoulders, we laughed at your jokes, we ground your corn, we turned down your cosy bed.

You roped us in, you strung us up, you left us dangling like clothes on a line. What hijinks! What kicks! How virtuous you felt, how righteous, how purified now that you’d got rid of the plump young dirty dirt-girls inside your head!

You should have buried us properly. You should have poured wine over us. You should have prayed for our forgiveness.

Now you can’t get rid of us, wherever you go: in your life or your afterlife or any of your other lives...

Monday 22 July 2013

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

I took a little time out from the myths after following the strange ‘controversy’ (I call it that loosely; the media made a deal out of it but I don’t see it as warranted) caused by Messud’s angry (ish) outburst in response to the following question, raised in a Publisher’s Weekly Q&A:

“Q: I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim

A: For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?”...”

You can read the full interview here: Claire Messud Publishers' Weekly

And the whole thing strikes me as funny, because Messud has a valid point and it feeds into the concept that women, on the whole, have to be likeable whereas men are permitted to be flawed, which makes them interesting, which is something that Sheryl Sandberg covers in her book ‘Lean In’ with the research to back it up, but somehow her ‘angry’ response prompted a temporary flood of high emotion about gendered questioning and whether her response, in itself, was proportionate. In any event it interested me enough to buy the book, so if nothing else it was great publicity.

Serendipity. On a number of levels that’s what this book has meant to me. Firstly because the very controversy-that-wasn’t-really fed itself into a thread of thinking I’ve been thinking, about women and their battle against perception, which is part of what my whole reading books by women mission has all been about. Also because of how it mirrors something of the theme of ‘Lean In’ by Sandberg which I’ll review more completely once I’ve ceased sharing it with every working women who stands still long enough. Also because Messud’s response was angry, and anger is an emotion which is viewed unfavourably in women which, serendipitously, is exactly what the novel is about.

Nora Eldridge is Messud’s protagonist. She is single, in her early forties, ordinary, a diligent school teacher, devoted daughter, considerate friend, artist wannabe and an angry woman. The anger is the first thing we learn about Nora; her anger is deep, visceral, barely contained. She is the first bubblings of a super-volcano. Outwardly she continues to be calm, helpful, kind, considerate, invisible Nora – the ‘Woman Upstairs’ – as she consistently refers to herself. Inwardly she is seething. She wants to stick two fingers up at the world and everything in it, the world in which she sees herself as having failed, missed her opportunity.

Nora’s story, the unravelling of it, begins with a new boy in class, Reza Shahid. Recalling having seen him a few days earlier, Nora is quickly entranced by the charming new child in class.  An unexpected incident of bullying prompts a meeting between Nora and Reza’s mother, Sirena, and this is when Nora’s identity begins to unravel. Sirena is an Italian artist married to a Lebanese academic, in the US for a year whilst her husband is working at the university. She is also warm, vibrant and charming. Unexpectedly Nora opens up to her and, almost too quickly, they agree to rent a studio together. Sirena wants to work on her installation, Wonderland, a work which she hopes to propel her into the big leagues whilst Nora sees this as an opportunity to re-invoke her own artistic yearnings, tiny dioramas representing the lives of famous, but tragic, female artists.

What follows is a three way love affair, or rather a situation in which Nora falls in love with the three Shahids and they, to all appearances, fall in love with her. Or do they? In this novel we hear only Nora’s story, perceive only Nora’s perceptions. It is clear that Nora fell in love with the family, all of the family, in various ways. It is clear that her involvement with them changed her. That Nora becomes a part of the Shahid’s life seems certain, her involvement in the construction of Sirena’s Wonderland, her nights babysitting Reza, her intimate walks and talks with Skandar are facts on which Nora can be certain. But did they mean anything? That is a question which Nora asks herself, and in the end finds an answer which isn’t to her liking.

It is a core theme of the novel: the question of what is real and what is fantasy. This is echoed in the differing works of the artists – Nora creates exact but tiny models of real-life rooms and lives, whereas Sirena creates an imaginative masterpiece themed on Alice in Wonderland, in itself a story which tangles the real and unreal. Where Sirena creates, larger than life, Nora replicates or assists in bringing to life Sirena’s vision. And she is happy, joy-filled, in this role, fulfilled in her secondary position until she realises that this is what she is. Until the Shahid’s move on, leaving her behind.

I found The Woman Upstairs a discomforting read on so many levels. In some respects I could see Nora in me, I’m sure many women do, putting the needs of others first and putting our own hopes and dream on hold. Fulfilling others, but also being bound by fear. Fear of trying and failing. Better to help others succeed. There are also many questions about what it real and what is only a playing out of Nora’s fantasy, how much of the ‘events’ happened in her head and not for real, but also a question about why they didn’t happen for real. Better to fantasise than risk rejection or failure. As a consequence Nora doesn’t allow herself to really live her life, she lives in a fantasy, in Wonderland, and like all fantasies they are only as alive as the person who creates them. Where Sirena is able to bring body and soul to her ‘Wonderland’, Nora’s relies upon the three people around her to create it. And when they are gone, it all falls apart.

I also couldn’t help feeling that Nora was used by the Shahids, that they played on her loneliness and willingness to become part of their lives knowing that eventually they would be leaving. Or perhaps not, perhaps they simply didn’t see her in the way she saw them. But that is the point of the Woman Upstairs: she’s invisible.

There’s a lot packed in to this short (ish) novel and a lot of intricate emotions. This is a complex novel, tightly written and intriguing and in the end, I think, highly successful. Nora may or may not be likeable, but in answer to Messud’s challenge, “is this character alive?”, I would say most definitely yes. Alive yes, but not living.

That I’ve written this much (and could go on) is a testament to how successful a novel Messud has created in The Woman Upstairs. It is a difficult but rewarding read and a reminder to us all that living bravely means living with risk but also reward.

The Woman Upstairs receives a livid (and impressed) 9 out of 10 Biis.  

Sunday 21 July 2013

Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt

I wish there were more books written by Helen DeWitt, then I could read them all and recommend them enthusiastically to every reader, writer, every random passer-by, probably resulting in my eventual arrest and incarceration in a mental institution. That’s how much I like Helen DeWitt. Sadly, for me, she has written only two books but those two books are amazing. Read on for crazy enthusing.

Lightning Rods was published in UK by And Other Stories, an independent publishing house which is National Lottery funded and operates to strict principles (called its ’11 Commandments’) including the intention to publish not for private profit. You can read all about And Other Stories here: Like many independent presses, And Other Stories seem focused on providing a quality product both in terms of the binding, paper quality, look and, let’s not forget the most important part, quality of writing. They also appear to be focused on publishing the more ‘challenging’ fiction which, perhaps, the mainstream publishers would be less likely to pick up, including the highly successful Booker nominated Swimming Home by Deborah Levy, which I also read and enjoyed and will no doubt get around to blogging about at some point. They operate a subscription service (which I obviously had to sign up to), and even thank their subscribers by name in the back of the book (which is almost unbearably wonderful). And Other Stories strike me as a very interesting publisher to watch, and I hope to be exploring their back and future catalogues more.

So, that’s a bit of publisher enthusing over, let’s get to the book. Lightning Rods tells the story of Joe, a hopelessly optimistic salesman who becomes an unlikely hero. Joe fails to sell any Encyclopaedia Britannica and, try as he might, he fails to sell any Electrolux vacuum cleaners too. After moving to Eureka, Florida, in search of a salesman’s paradise he finds, instead, one which has been cleaned up already.

By the end of the week he realised this was not going to be as easy as it looked. Because every single house he went to had the same story to tell. They already had an Electrolux, they’d bought it just after Hurricane Edna, and it was one of the best things they’d ever done. The customer would then insist on dragging out the faithful Electrolux and singing its praises. Yessir, the customer would say, reckon I’ll break down before this thing does.

As a consequence Joe spends a lot of time eating pie, not making sales, and sitting alone in his trailer fantasising. In fact Joe has one particular fantasy which involves a sexual encounter in which a woman is leaning against a wall so that her upper half is visible from one side but her lower half is not. Her lower half is being pleasured by a suitably equipped man whilst her upper half appears calm. Perhaps she has a conversation with someone, and that someone would never know what was happening behind the lower half of the wall.

Joe, in his spare sales free moments which are many, develops this fantasy into a game show in which the player has to guess which of three ladies is being pleasured from behind the wall. Joe’s problem comes when instead of focusing on his fantasy, drawing the maximum pleasure from it, he starts to wonder if the game is rigged. This, coupled with his failure to sell a single Electrolux, is when Joe realises he has a real problem and decides to do something about it.

He had hit rock bottom. Because, let’s face it, the kind of guy who gets ahead in the world, the kind of guy who makes a mark, the kind of guy who makes a difference, is the kind of guy who deals with his sexual urges and gets on with the job. He is not the kind of guy who lies around obsessing about whether some kind of completely imaginary game show is rigged.

Joe realises that what he has been focusing on is the wrong problem. He has been trying to sell something which people had no need for and blaming himself for being a poor salesman whereas the success or failure centred around the product. Instead he needed to focus on what people need and it will sell itself. And this is where his fantasy comes in.

Joe invents ‘Lightning Rods’ as a method of dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment, he reasons, is rife and women have good reason to expect to not be subjected to that in the workplace. However, highly successful men are likely to be testosterone driven and conversely will be more likely to commit incidents of sexual harassment. This is a problem, he decides, for HR personnel who wish to protect their highly successful male staff whilst knowing that a sexual harassment case against them is nigh on inevitable. However, Joe decides, if he can deliver a safe outlet for those highly testosteroned staff to relieve their sexual urges in the workplace then this will reduce instances of sexual harassment, creating a safer workplace for both men and women.

The Lightning Rods themselves (women, delivering sexual services) would also need means of protection in order to ensure they didn’t suffer adverse effects on their reputation. Joe’s idea is to place his Lightning Rods into standard workplace roles and implement a system whereby they could be selected at random and provide their service whilst remaining anonymous. This involves conversion of a room into a space whereby the woman’s nether parts can be accessed whilst her face and any distinguishing features remain hidden.

Having had this idea, the rest of the book explores Joe’s journey in making his Lightning Rods product, against all odds, a success. Joe buys himself a thousand dollar suit, creating the right image, and armed with some dubious research and statistics works his way through a series of obstacles including racial discrimination, tangles with the FBI, and an unhappy workforce to deliver Lightning Rods into every major employer in US. Joe becomes the unlikely hero in the middle of a bizarre story which seems so unlikely it couldn’t possibly be for real.

This is not a book for the easily offended, nor one to be read superficially. It’s not even really about pornography or sexism. At the heart of DeWitt’s book is the idea of the American Dream, that everyone can make it if they work hard enough, coupled with the idea that, with the application of pure reason, everything appears logical. What is bizarre about the success of Lightning Rods is how it is Joe’s skill at sales-focused reasoning that makes everything he does appear kind-of-right and kind-of- normal when it patently isn’t. Had DeWitt used a less controversial ‘product’ then the story just wouldn’t succeed. In Lightning Rods DeWitt explores the boundaries of what we might accept if only someone sold it to us hard enough, something that is all too painfully reflected in real life when we see how easily people will hand over their civil liberties for the mere illusion of protection.

What is so awesome about DeWitt is how clever and brilliant and entertaining and funny her writing is. I cannot emphasise enough how often I found myself chuckling away on those long, lonely journeys to and from work on the train, then went back and read a passage again just for the sheer joy of it. She has that kind of wise-cracker easiness to her writing which draws you in, and with this light comedic touch she is able draw open taboos without falling into the trap of caricature or abuse. This following passage highlights how one short encounter on a bus seeds in Joe what turns out to be his greatest invention, the adjustable toilet and which could, so easily, be considered offensive:

The thing was, never having actually come across a dwarf in real life before, and only having seen Time Bandits a long time ago, Joe had never realised just how short a dwarf can be. The shuttle bus had a fairly low step, but it was way too high for the dwarf. Well, obviously the guy had to deal with this type of situation before, he just took hold of the pole in the middle of the door and swung himself right on up, no problem. He had to hand the driver money to put in the fare dispenser, which was also way too high, and then he went back into the bus and he had to swing himself up again just to get into one of the seats – what kind of a way was that to go through life?

Joe paid his fare then he went back into the bus and sat down a long way from the dwarf. One of the first lessons you learn in life is to avoid men of below average height. There’s something about being short that makes a man feel he has something to prove, say he stopped growing at 5’6”, a couple of extra inches would have made all the difference, instead of going with the flow he tends to be aggressive if not downright mean. Take away another couple of inches, and you’re into mean son of a bitch territory. Take it right on down to 3’11” and God only knows what you’re up against. Best to keep a safe distance.

Anyway, the bus pulled out, and Joe’s mind reverted to its bĂȘte noir: the disabled toilet. And the thing he suddenly realised was that the disabled toilet would be way too high for someone like this dwarf. No better than any of the other toilets, in fact, except that it had a rail he could use to climb up onto the seat. And if you stop and think about it for a minute, when was the last time you saw a toilet with a dwarf icon on the door? Well, what kind of world do we live in when we give people no option but to climb up on the seat whenever they need to answer the call of nature?

Where DeWitt avoids this is by observing without judgement, coupled with the boundless optimism and problem solving capabilities of Joe. Ultimately DeWitt exposes how one man thinking through various problems, with a little twisted reasoning, can take you to an unexpected conclusion that somehow, inexplicably, seems logical. It is all very funny and entertaining, but underneath it all there is a message that we can all be sold pretty much anything as long as we’re willing to accept authority from someone who merely looks the part and is able to spin the logic in such a way that has us all agreeing and wondering why we hadn’t seen it for ourselves. It is a brave, challenging novel which could quite easily be misconstrued as sexist, inappropriate or just plain dirty, but it is, in truth, none of these things. It is, plainly speaking, brilliant.  

Lightning Rods receives an implausible 10 out of 10 Biis.

Monday 15 July 2013

Orphans of Eldorado - Milton Hatoum

Continuing with the Canongate Myths series, Orphans of Eldorado represents the sole offering from South America. Blending the legend of Eldorado with the Amazonian myth of the Enchanted City, Hatoum offers us a journey into desire and despair, a dark river of longing.

Orphans of Eldorado follows the deteriorating fortunes of Arminto Cordovil, third generation Amazonian landowner whose spiralling descent into poverty mirrors the fortunes of pre-war Brazil. In Arminto’s case it seems that his desire, in particular his desire for Indian women, is his downfall. First there’s an affair with his nursemaid, Florita, which condemns him to a solitary existence in Manaus. Later, after his father’s death, Arminto becomes obsessed with a mysterious orphan, Dinaura. His desire consumes him, culminating in the sinking of his ship the Eldorado, the loss of his fortune and the eventual loss, too, of Dinaura.

Orphans of Eldorado is a strange kind of book and one I think I’d like to understand better. One of the things I’ve noticed when reading the myths is that a background understanding of the mythology is advantageous, and in this case I felt that the lack of it inhibited my understanding of the story. There is a blending of culture, a question of segregation between the Catholic ‘white’ aristocratic landowners and the Indians with their shamans and mythologies. In the middle of this is Arminto, a deteriorating Brazil with its collapsing rubber industry and landslide into poverty. There is the strangely problematic relationship between Arminto and his father Amando, a coldness which is never really quite explained but seems to be seated, somehow, in Arminto’s mother’s death in childbirth and, perhaps, the chequered past of Amando’s father. There are many questions of relationship. What is the relationship between Amando and Florita, how is Amando linked to Dinaura and is there, too, a secret relationship between Arminto and Dinaura beyond their desire (there is some suggestion that Dinaura is the child of Amando or, perhaps, his father)?

This seems to be a novel of secrets and mystery, interwoven with the exoticism of Amazonian mythologies. I didn’t quite get it, and was left feeling somewhat dissatisfied but also with the certainty that what was missing from this story was my own lack of knowledge and understanding. It certainly made me more interested in Amazonian mythology and, time permitting, I hope to do some more investigation into this and perhaps slot some of the missing pieces together.

One of the most surprising gifts this novel gave to me was a desire, also, to learn more about the poet C P Cavafy whose poem The City prefaces the story. Not having read anything by Cavafy before, I was strangely moved by the poem and would like to share it here. Another writer I’ll be investigating further.

The City by C P Cavafy (1910)

You said, ‘I’ll go to another land, I’ll go to
another sea.
I’ll find a city better than this one.
My every effort is a written indictment,
and my heart – like someone dead – is buried.
How long will my mind remain in this decaying state?
Wherever I cast my eyes, wherever I look,
I see my life in black ruins here,
where I spent so many years, and ruined and
wasted them.’

You will not find new lands, you will not find
other seas.
The city will follow you. You will roam
the same streets. And you will grow old in the same
and your hair will turn white in the same houses.
You will always arrive in this city. Don’t hope for
elsewhere –
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you have wasted your life here,
in this small corner, so you have ruined it on the
whole earth.

Orphans of Eldorado receives a slightly confused 7 out of 10 Biis.


Wednesday 10 July 2013

Weight - Jeanette Winterson

Aside from reading books by female writers, I am also exploring mythologies so I was overjoyed when a friend reminded me of the fantastic series, Canongate myths. In this series, Canongate Books have asked various writers to exploit and retell their favourite myths. There’s a real range in the series which ranges from retelling of well known stories like Theseus and the minotaur, to more controversial retellings like Philip Pullman’s ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ (which I’m getting to) to lesser known myths, at least to those of us in the Western world, like Binu and the Great Wall and the Japanese myth of Izanaki and Izanami. In total there are 17 myths (one of which has not been translated) and sadly it doesn’t appear that Canongate are doing any more.  

My starting point was one that was recommended to me: Weight by Jeanette Winterson. Weight is Winterson’s take on the myths of Atlas and Heracles, the two strong men of Greek history. But this is no ordinary story. Winterson has woven very loosely together the Titan’s and hero’s stories and injected to it her own idea of how those two beings might have been. What results is Atlas the philosopher meeting Heracles the grunt man who, through their meeting, suffers a strange kind of crisis of identity after offering to bear Atlas’s burden and then later reneging on the deal. Interwoven into this, somehow, and almost as an afterthought, is Winterson’s own story in a short, final piece which explains, cajoles perhaps, the reasons why she writes. It is a strange blend which in less capable hands wouldn’t work. But Winterson shows herself, here, to be a masterful storyteller. She translates the tale of Atlas, the story of Heracles, and makes them real conveying a great deal with real economy.  

 One of the great successes of this book is how distinctly Winterson conveys the characters of Atlas and Heracles. Take the following, a typical musing of the philosopher, gentle Atlas:

I can hear the world beginning. Time plays itself back for me. I can hear the ferns uncurling from their tight rest. I can hear pools bubbling with life. I realise I am carrying not only this world, but all possible worlds. I am carrying the world in time as well as in space. I am carrying the world’s mistakes and its glories. I am carrying its potential as well as what has so far been realised.

As the dinosaurs crawl through my hair and volcanic eruptions pock my face, I find I am become a part of what I must bear. There is no longer Atlas and the world, there is only the World Atlas. Travel me and I am continents. I am the journey you must make. 

and contrast with the introduction we receive to Heracles:

Here he comes, the Hero of the World, wearing a lion-skin and swinging his olive club.

‘Have a drink Atlas you old globe. We’ve all got our burdens to bear. Your punishment is to hold up the universe. My punishment is to work for a wanker.’”

But it is the philosophy and beauty of the book which is its true strength. I have, frequently, been critical of female writers on account of their failure to engage with the world of ideas, but here Winterson is all ideas. The book is philosophically heavy, but it is a philosophy delivered with such a light and masterful touch that it is easy to become lost in its beauty. There are so many passages in this book to which I could return and return. As Winterson says ‘I want to tell the story again’ as I want to read the story again and again. To return to this:

“Always boundaries and desire...

It is fit that a man should do his best and grapple with the world. It is meet that he should accept the challenges of his destiny. What happens when the sun reaches the highest point in the day? Is it a failure for morning to become afternoon, or afternoon to turn into peaceful evening and star-bright night?

I am good at walking away. Rejection teaches you how to reject. I left my hometown, left my parents, left my life. I made a home and a life elsewhere, more than once. I stayed on the run. Why then, did the burden feel intolerable? What was it that I carried?

I realise now that the past does not dissolve like a mirage. I realise that the future, though invisible, has weight. We are in the gravitational pull of past and future. It takes huge energy – speed-of-light power – to break that gravitational pull.

How many of us ever get free of our orbit? We tease ourselves with fancy notions of free will and self-help courses that direct our lives. We believe we can be our own miracle, and just a lottery win or Mr Right will make the world new.

The ancients believed in Fate because they recognised how hard it is for anyone to change anything. The pull of past and future is so strong that the present is crushed by it. We lie helpless in the force of patterns inherited and patterns re-enacted by our own behaviour. The burden is intolerable.

And that, in essence, is what this book is about: the burden of weight we carry with ourselves. In Atlas’s case the burden was physical, and yet there is a recognition that the burden is somehow self-imposed, that Atlas is complicit, even defined by his burden of the world on his shoulders. In Heracles’s case the burden is one of birth, his Fate to be the Hero of the World, and to die as one too. The burden of his birthright, his parentage, the anger of a goddess he had no power to change. In our case it is our lives that are a burden, as Winterson says “We lie helpless in the force of patterns inherited and patterns re-enacted by our own behaviour”. We are burdened by ourselves. The weight is inescapable.

Yet in the end there is a message of hope. Atlas joins forces with another being, Laika the dog propelled into space by the Russians, another being who escaped the pull of past and future. Like Atlas, who in the end accepted his fate. Who carried the burden with care and love and attention and who, in the end, decided to let it go.

A stunningly wonderful book, beautifully written and intricately woven. Weight receives a mythological 5 out of 5 Biis.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

I really need to get better at this

Okay,  so it's a really really long time since I published anything on my blog. Bad, naughty me. Since my last post I've read about a gazillion books and thought a lot about them and written not a jot. I am committed to catching up. Watch this space, reviews will follow...