#tobyreads: Myths Abound


I’ve been reading a lot of mythologically-oriented work lately. Sometimes that’s been explicit; at other times, it’s more implicit, found in a metaphor or a passing reference. A little while ago, I read Anders Nilsen’s graphic novel Rage of Poseidon, which brings together irreverent takes on Greek mythology, eventually blending them with irreverent takes on Christianity; for a piece that should show up elsewhere in a couple of weeks, I read Jo Walton’s The Just City, which blends Greek gods, Plato’s The Republic, and robots from the far future, and somehow works.

Ali Smith’s novel Girl Meets Boy was written for Canongate’s series of works updating stories taken from mythology. In this particular case, Smith’s focused on the lives of two slightly estranged sisters, both working in marketing for the same company, and the complications that ensue when one falls in love with an activist protesting their firm’s activities. Said activist is herself fond of referencing the story of Iphis, which is told and retold in progressively more complex versions. What Smith seems to be saying here, too, is that stories in which humans must appeal to indifferent gods to intervene are long gone; we’ve grown, both as individuals and as a society, where we can solve our problems ourselves.

Also notable is the style in which the novel is told: Smith has long been a deft manipulator of text and words, but here, the pace is brisk–it feels like her garage punk novel, if that makes sense, all staccato delivery and impassioned sentiment.

The tone taken by Janet Malcolm in her book Iphigenia in Forest Hills is more reserved. There isn’t a lot that I can say here; it’s a gripping account of a murder trial in, as the title suggests, Forest Hills. It’s more straightforward than I’m used to from Malcolm: there aren’t a lot of meditations on What It All Means, it’s more of an account of a crime and a trial, and how that affected the community in which it happens. (There is one point where Malcolm steps outside of the narrative somewhat, and it’s fascinating.) Reading it, one gets a sense of how all of the pieces of this fit together, from the investigation of the crime to the agencies involved with the murder victim’s child to the way that local papers covered the trial. It’s a panoramic, gripping work.

Joy Williams’s The Changeling came highly recommended, and I’d intended to read it ever since a new edition was released a couple of years ago. It’s a gripping, hallucinatory work, both a harrowing account of a woman dealing with the aftereffects of a bad marriage and a much more surreal, possibly supernatural, story of obsession and the effects of calcified old money. Terrific, enveloping stuff.

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