Tag Archives: myth

Circe: I was President of Latin Club.

It will come as a surprise to no one that I was President of my high school Latin club. It was the kind of club that included an annual inter-institutional, three-day Roman based extravaganza of geekhood: chariot races, tug-of-war, academic competitions, barely-concealed-drinking, dramatic readings and theatrical performances. It was a haven for the weird and quirky before Glee and Geekculture made such things popular, or at least tolerable. I don’t know what high school is like now, but I know that for me, high school was only made tolerable by S., J., J., and Latin club (and who are we kidding, the library). One year, at this ‘Classics Conference,’ we staged a fashion show in which we assembled period costumes (hand sewn, of course) for the characters from the Odyssey and then wore them on stage for an audience; we had never been as proud or as celebrated. I played the role of Circe, dressed in seductive red, and if I could find a photo I promise I would never show it to you.

This is all a long wind up to let you know that I was very excited when my copy of Circe arrived at the library. You’ll remember that I adored Madeline Miller’s first novel, Song of Achilles  and so the combination of enthusiasm for the myth, the character and the novel and I was… excited.

And get this: Circe lives up to even these expectations. It has at its core questions about mortality (and we all know how I love to think about mortality), morality and what makes for a good life. These questions are woven through with ideas of gender, sexuality, and how women becoming fully themselves. One danger the novel brushes against, and ultimately (I think) avoids, is in supposing that it is through the maternal experience that this self-assurance is (pardon the pun) born.

To say more: the novel follows our titular character through her formative experiences in her father’s home, through banishment to an island and the many and varied characters she encounters there, through to her ventures from the island – and the causes for these departures – to her final conclusion. Along the way she does have a child, and this experience is – accurately (I think) – transformative. But where the novel succeeds (again, in my view) is in allowing that this singular experience of becoming a mother is not, in its self, sufficient for total transformation. Rather it is the collective experiences of developing her witchcraft; discovering her sexuality; mastering her body and its limits; reconciling herself with regret, consequence and guilt; and in the climactic moments – revealing to herself her strength and depth of character. All of these moments unfold slowly and in ways that subtly but progressively deepen and change her character.

Lest you worry this is nothing but an exhaustive character study, there are moments of intrigue, of romance, of suspense, of magic. But above all, there is beautiful – really – writing. Some of seascapes and landscapes, sure, but really writing that gets you to think differently about humanity and its capacity. I can think of few better ways to begin 2019 then with this novel that asks readers what makes our mortal lives worth living.




Filed under American literature, Erin's Favourite Books, Fiction

Two Cakes Fit for a King: More tales than fairies


Not that I need to compare Vietnamese folktales to the British/German folktales that I grew up with, but it’s hard, when reading stories about princesses and adventures, not to compare. And I have to say the Vietnamese stories did away with a lot of the magic (with the exception of a talking turtle) in favour of hard hitting moral lessons that announce themselves as moral lesson (behave!). Not in an Edward Gorey kind of way, more in a… hmm… ‘don’t be promiscuous.’

I liked the folktales because they are short and I’m falling behind on my reading list (in large part because I’m ‘stuck’ on the Satanic Verses, a book that will not give itself over to me easily), which I know is not a good reason to like a book, but there you have it. It’s April in 10-10-12 and I’m admitting to enjoying something for its brevity. Take me as I am.

Leave a comment

Filed under 100 Books of 2011, Book I'll Forget I Read

The Girl With the Glass Feet: Okay.

My brother gave me Ali Shaw’s The Girl With the Glass Feet for Christmas, and so I slotted it in to “First Novels,” for no other reason than I wanted to read it and it fit the category. Turns out it really is a wonderful first novel (the New York Times say so too), full of imagination and magic. The plot is the title: a girl (Ida) has glass feet, a problem because the glass spreads and cannot be ‘cured’ (though the novel goes to some pains to remind the reader that the glass is not a disease, it is part of Ida, not a disease to be cured or caught – something to be lived with and accepted).

It’s a novel about how to be in the present. Midas – the erstwhile emotionally stunted photographer and eventual lover of Ida – must abandon photography as the barrier between himself and human connection; other men must figure out how to be in relationships, how to confront their pasts and the failures of their (misguided) choices.

And Ida, while, Ida more or less serves as the metaphor/tool by which the men figure out how to be whole, feeling people. Sure she feels love and gets consumed by glass, but I can’t help but wonder whether she isn’t the one-dimensional fairy tale figure who enable plot action and character change at the expense of having these things happen for herself. Such is her lack of depth (if her solid glass-ness wasn’t enough) when she concludes she will die she writes a letter to her father and this reader gasped – having forgotten Ida might have a family, connections, feelings (fears!) about her own death. And this reader wasn’t at all moved by her death, more a reaction of wondering how Midas will respond.

I will say the richly imagined world that sees cow-dragonflies and a creature that turns all other creatures white on sight is pretty neat: though the (apparent) lack of connection between these magical things and the glass feet left this reader a little bewildered as to what all the magic was meant to (thematically?) achieve. Nonetheless, cow-dragonflies: pretty cool.

Leave a comment

Filed under 100 Books of 2011, Fiction, Young Adult Fiction