Summer, September, Circe, and Sea Monsters

September 29, 2019 at 3:41 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Title: Circe

Author: Madeline Miller

We spent a good chunk of our summer reading ancient history and mythology. The summer months of sunshine and blistering heat seem to be the best months for mentally spending time in the mediterranean, Egypt, and all the other places we think of when we imagine gods and goddesses.

I read Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan out loud to my nearly nine year old. Last time I’d done that she was maybe two or three. I picked up history books on Athens and Amazons faster than I could read them; I’m still finishing some of them up now. We recently started Sea of Monsters, the second in the Percy Jackson series, my daughter is smitten, I’m gloriously amused.

One historical novel that did stand out, though, was Circe by Madeline Miller. It started out sounding forcefully archaic, cold, like someone trying to hard to tap into a world of Homeric myth; but as I kept reading I found myself smitten by the sea-witch nymph–just as I believe Miller intended us to be. She starts out cold and heartless and grows warm with each mortal interaction.

It’s interesting to me how pervasive witches, goddesses, and nymphs are in modern day culture, despite having been born of myth thousands of years ago. We are enthralled with books like Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy, captivated by the Percy Jackson series, completely taken in by anything resembling immortality.

Is it our hearts longing for Heaven as Richardson says in Eternity in Our Hearts? So we invent ways that might allow us to stay? Or create reasons why it is better that we don’t? I know I find these stories most intriguing as I watch everything around us die for the oncoming winter.

I look forward to reading The Song of Achilles.

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A Book Club Possessed…

November 6, 2012 at 6:06 am (Events, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

… by the power of the words of A.S. Byatt.

    

I already shared with you my thoughts on A.S. Byatt’s Possession, how the novel leaves me overwhelmed with inadequacy.  But tonight, at the Half Price Books Humble monthly Book Club meeting, I got to discuss with others how it made them feel.

Over a strawberry cream cheese coffee cake, we talked a lot about French mythology, feminism, the Victorian era, the roaring twenties (a discussion that branched out of our feminism discussion), human nature, and more.

There is so much to talk about in this book, so much material, so many memorable quotes, I found it exhilarating that the things I wanted to discuss were things someone else wanted to discuss too.  When I asked about favorite quotes from the book, a typical book clubbish question, it was exciting to see that Henry had underlined the same quote on page 39 that I had.  What are the odds?

“It’s an odd affair – tragedy and romance and symbolism rampant all over it […]”

The quote is about the fabricated poet Christabel LaMotte and her poem about Melusina, and in hindsight it doesn’t necessarily stand out that much from the other wonderful quotes to be found in the book.  However, it is so close to the beginning that you wouldn’t know that so many amazing bits of prose are to come.  I think I had initially underlined it, supposing (correctly) that it would equally describe Christabel’s poem and Byatt’s work as a whole.  There is tragedy.  There is romance.  And the symbolism is rampant all over it.

The idea of cleanliness, purity, and the color white intermingle with Victorian era ideology while also contrasting against the deviance of feminism in bold greens, crimsons, plums, and blues.

What is so interesting about all this symbolism with color, is that like it’s themes, that the white and the color overlap so effortlessly, so surprisingly, when the final work is complete it is hard to decide where you would want to end up – with the pure white? or the passionate color?  It seems as though to be complete, there would need to be both.

There’s an essay floating about in cyberspace written by a Stephen Dondershine titled Color and Identity in A.S. Byatt’s Possession.  In it, he talks of the book being just like a Pre-Raphaelite painting and quotes Raymond Watkinson”s Pre-Raphaelite Art and Design:

One of the marks of the finest Pre-Raphaelite work was, and still is, the exciting and disturbing power of its colour — very much the least naturalistic aspect of the new painting. The painters of the Brotherhood, and their associates, went beyond the frank record of the green trees and grasses, the bright pure hues of flowers, and reintroduced into painting ranges and relations of colour unused in European art since the Middle Ages — an alarming array of blues, greens, violets, purples, used not simply because they were there to be painted, but chosen for their powerful emotional effect. It was not of course simply the colours, but their combination, that compelled and provoked these effects.

Dondershine stresses the word combination with good reason.  Would any of these paintings speak to us visually and emotionally even half as well if the lights and darks were not so opposite and vibrant?  If the color was not so colorful and rich, if the white was not so stark?

     

Would Maude be so fascinating if she wasn’t so broken by Fergus? Would Christabel’s story be quite so passionately romantic if she hadn’t been a virgin before Ash? Would the story have meant so much if their love hadn’t been somewhat forbidden?  At the same time, doesn’t her fate make you think twice about her rash haste to be independent?  Doesn’t the idea of freedom being found within the safety and confines of a marriage, a partnership become solidified when viewed in the severe contrast of Christabel’s dependency on her cousin later in life… when seen how famously Roland and Maude get along?

Then there is Melusina.  Melusina, the story actually being described in that oh so telling page 39 quote.  I had never heard of Melusina until this book.  I am now completely captivated by the French version of the Scots selkies, the Ondines/Undines of the world; except instead of being a beautiful and gentle seal-woman, Melusina is a serpent of the water-sprite variety.  Now, of course, I am dying to get my hands on a compilation of French myths, equipped with illustrations throughout history, of course!

All in all, it was an exciting meeting, and left me much to ponder. I cannot wait until next month’s gathering when we will discuss Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shoppe.

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