Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Top Three Retold Myths For Adults

There's been something of a trend in the reworking and revamping of classic myths and figures in books of late, most obviously in the Young Adult spectrum. Percy Jackson pushed the boat out, and it's a party every night on the S.S. Mythic since. Let's just hope no one goes whistling up any krakens any time soon.

But today I'm going to do something a little different, and do some little mini-reviews come plugs for some of my favourite books inspired by or reworking of myths on the more adult-oriented end of the spectrum. Not that YA readers couldn't enjoy these too, but some of the themes and styles on hand demand classification as adult. Just in case some poor twelve year old reads the wrong book and is forever scarred / traumatised / converted to non-standard ways of thinking, amirite?

"Grendel" - John Gardner

A story about a man-eating monster reworked as a philosophical think-piece about the role and importance of fate and purpose? Are you gnawing on my elbow joint?

Being the massive Beowulf fangirl that I am, I was all over this thing. It's by no means the easiest read, and it took me a while to get into it, but even if you don't entirely follow the vein of thought expressed, the absolutely stunning prose absolutely makes up for it. 

Grendel's first person perspective reminds me rather of the monster from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - horrifying and sympathetic all at once.  The philosophy itself, and its relationship to the timeless issues of perceived monstrosity, and the effects of internalised self-hate on one's treatment by and of the world around us, is beautifully handled as well. 

A hard read, but well worth it.

"The Penelopiad" - Margaret Atwood

Do you like The Odyssey? Do you like female protagonists? Do you like getting your heart pulled out
of your chest and played like a harp from start to finish?

Then you're going to love this.

The Penelopiad does exactly what it says on the tin, and then some. Both prequel, companion piece, and what-happened-next to Homer's original text, Atwood's feminist retelling takes the perspective of Odysseus' overlooked wife Penelope, giving voice to her experiences before, during and after Odysseus' ill-fated trip to Troy.

The best thing about The Penelopiad, for me, was the reality of it. Penelope is a woman both out of and deeply immersed in her time, critically examining the structures that govern her actions moreso than she herself does, even as she expresses her exasperated but nonetheless abiding love for her husband and family.

No pulled punches, no holds barred - a beautiful, powerful piece of womens' writing.

"The Song Of Achilles" - Madeline Miller

Small confession: I haven't finished this book yet. I know. Stone me for a fool and a traitor. And for that one overdue library book.

One thing that has consistently irritated me throughout my experience with re-tellings of myths is their tendency to be rather homogenised in terms of their romance. Very safe, very standard - one man, one woman, a few kisses, maybe a scandalous sex scene if you really want to be rebellious (but not too much).

Finally, then, we get a book that smacks that over the head with a shield and spray paints some colour over the bland suburban magnolia. Not only are Achilles and Patroclus rightly re-instated to their proper, passionate romantic relationship (oddly removed from most retellings, surprise surprise), but the emotional punches and pulls of their relationship, and the story around them, are brought to life in a method at once so compelling and timeless that Homer himself would probably be proud.

Gaudy, gory, and glorious.


Anybody else read any of these beauties? Or would you like to recommend some more for me? Leave a comment, and let me know!

~ Charley R

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