wrap up: March 2018

I guess I don’t need to start this post with a personal life update, because this was a pretty dull month for me, and I don’t suppose you want to hear all about my car troubles.  😉  Anyway, it’s my birthday today and I am 26.  I will probably go to the movies later or something of that sort, but first, a blog post.  I had a really great reading month!

  • Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah ★★★★☆ (review)
  • Circe by Madeline Miller (ARC) ★★★☆☆ (review)
  • By the Bog of Cats by Marina Carr ★★★★★ (review)
  • Happiness by Aminatta Forna (ARC) ★★★☆☆ (review)
  • Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard ★★★★★ (review)
  • Medea by Christa Wolf ★★★★★ (review)
  • Bury What We Cannot Take by Kirsten Chen (ARC) ★★★★☆ (review)
  • Tin Man by Sarah Winman (ARC) ★★★★★ (review)
  • Too Close to Breathe by Olivia Kiernan (ARC) ★★★★☆ (review)
  • Asking For It by Louise O’Neill ★★★★★ (review)
  • The Child Finder by Rene Denfield ★☆☆☆☆ (review)
  • The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie ★★★★☆ (mini review)

Best: Asking For It by Louise O’Neill
Runner up: Tin Man by Sarah Winman, Medea by Christa Wolf, Women & Power by Mary Beard, By the Bog of Cats by Marina Carr.  I can’t choose.
Worst: The Child Finder by Rene Denfield

MARCH TOTAL: 12
YEARLY TOTAL: 26

Currently Reading: Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (I will finish it in April if it kills me, which I think it might), Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry, audiobook (this has a lot of lukewarm reviews but I’m actually really enjoying it), Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan (I’ve literally read 2 pages so far).

How was everyone’s March and what’s the best book you read?  Let me know!

 

book review: The Child Finder by Rene Denfield

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THE CHILD FINDER by Rene Denfield
★☆☆☆☆
Harper, 2017

 

The Child Finder is a very strong contender for the sappiest book I have ever read. And I guess there’s nothing wrong with a little sappiness now and then, but, I’m not kidding –

“This is something I know: no matter how far you have run, no matter how long you have been lost, it is never too late to be found.”

– this book was so saccharine I felt like I had to brush my teeth at the end of every chapter. I’m sorry but is that not the corniest sentence ever written???

Anyway, let’s back up. The Child Finder is a thriller (the least thrilling thriller of all time, but I guess that’s how it’s being classified) about a woman who finds missing children for a living. Though there are some seriously dark and disturbing themes in these pages, the narrative voice reads at a level your average ten-year-old would be comfortable with – it is painstakingly, aggravatingly childish. This book is the rather unfortunate result of someone actually sitting down and saying ‘you know what stories about pedophilia need? More whimsy.’

But, you know what, I think a certain type of writer might have been able to pull this off. I’m thinking of something like The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh (a play which balances fairytales with a harrowing exploration of child abuse), or Elmet by Fiona Mozley (which fuses dark themes with the narrator’s childish innocence in a way that’s subtle and breathtaking). But the integration of fairytales in The Child Finder was just so goddamn heavy-handed and patronizing. This book was trying so hard to be poignant and moving (despite having nothing of substance to say about trauma or child abuse) it was actually a little embarrassing.

I mean, this is the quality of prose and dialogue that I’m talking about:

“I loved you then. I loved you, no matter where you came from. No, scratch that.” His voice floated up to her. “I loved you because you came from wherever it was. It must have been a magic place to produce you.”

Naomi felt something deeper than crying, a flush in her womb. “Are you trying to talk your way into my bed?” she asked, her voice thick with emotion.

“No.” His voice sounded warm. “I’m trying to talk my way into your heart.”

You have to be joking, right? Is this a Lifetime movie??

Aside from all that, Naomi has to be the most exasperating protagonist of all time. She’s actually referred to, constantly, as ‘the child finder,’ because that’s not weird at all, I guess? and anyway, she is the most alluring woman alive. I know this because every man she comes into contact with immediately wants to have sex with her. And her personality consists of the fact that she only trusts three people – a fact that we’re reminded of at least once a chapter – and… that’s just about it.

I could go on and on. The subplot about Danita was transparent and emotionally manipulative. The actions and sophistication of the five year old girl, Madison, stretched all suspension of disbelief beyond breaking point. The romantic subplot was contrived and obvious. Every single sentence was either corny or trite or overwritten or some combination of the three. The story unfolded so predictably, there was not a single moment of genuine suspense. The resolution couldn’t satisfy itself with merely tying up the main plotline in a neat bow – it had to tie up several minor plotlines in neat bows too, lest Rene Denfield credit her audience with the ability to think for ourselves.

I’m definitely in the minority with this one – at a glance I don’t think any of my Goodreads friends have rated it less than 4 stars. And admittedly the atmosphere of this snowy Oregon forest was captured beautifully. That’s the only positive thing I can think to say. Maybe the audiobook was a bad decision – maybe it just exacerbated the feeling I had that I was being preached at. But you cannot convince me that reading this book on paper would have eradicated its sundry narrative faults or convinced me that this is anything other than twee drivel masquerading itself as a deep and profound reading experience. Getting through this was borderline unbearable.

top 5 tuesday: Characters Who Would Win Survivor

Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the fantastic Bionic Bookworm.  This week’s topic:

MARCH 27th – Top 5 characters that would win the show Survivor

Allow me to show my true colors as a complete nerd for a second here – I love Survivor.  I’ve watched every season multiple times (that’s over 35 seasons, over 500 episodes… all multiple times.  I have no life).  Being stranded in an airport for 5 hours with Stephen Fishbach was one of my personal highlights of 2016.  I love this prompt.

In case you are unfamiliar: Survivor is a reality television competition show, in which approx. 16-20 strangers are stranded on an island together, separated into ‘tribes,’ and compete in challenges.  The losing tribe has to vote someone out until the number of competitors dwindles down.  Eventually the two tribes merge and it becomes an individual game, and of the remaining 2-3 players at the very end, a jury of their peers votes for a winner, who receives a million dollars.  Basically, they’re voting for the person they believe “outwitted, outplayed, and outlasted” the rest of the competitors the best.  What makes Survivor so tricky is that as soon as you show how capable you are – whether it’s your intelligence or physical prowess – you’re seen as a threat to win the game, and your tribemates are going to want to vote you out.  And since you’re eventually judged by the very people you’re having a hand in voting out, it’s critical that you’re able to do so without making enemies of them.  Winning Survivor requires not only physical strength, but mental stamina, quick thinking, intelligence, and often, the ability to fly under the radar, and to manipulate without people realizing that you’re the one pulling the strings.  That’s the reason I love it so much – it’s a deceptively psychological game.

And it’s on Hulu – go watch it!

So, to add a completely unnecessary level of nerdiness to this prompt, I decided to choose my 5 favorite Survivor winners, and choose 5 fictional characters who I think are the most similar, who’d also be great at the game.  (Also NB that these are not necessarily my favorites in terms of personality, etc., just who I thought played the best Survivor games and were most deserving of the million dollars in direct relation to their gameplay.)

So, uh… spoilers for Survivor seasons: 27, 18, 13, 16, 24.

5. Tyson Apostol, Blood vs. Water (27) – Kaz Brekker, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Tyson is probably one of the most ruthless winners Survivor has ever seen.  He’s not a particularly nice person, but he’s upfront about who he is.  He won’t pretend to be your friend and then stab you in the back; he’ll be honest about the fact that he isn’t your friend to begin with.  But what makes him such a great winner is just how capable he is: he’s intelligent, physically strong, and he strategically runs the entire season.  Everyone knows it, too, but they’re a little afraid to vote him out because they don’t know what they’d do without their de facto leader.  Enter Kaz Brekker, ridiculously capable and unapologetically ruthless… but people flock to him anyway.  I think he could win Survivor with his eyes closed and his hands tied behind his back.  (There’s also the fact that Tyson won a season where loved ones are competing against each other on opposite tribes, and though he seems to not care about anyone, his weakness is his now-wife Rachel… I don’t need to comment on the obvious Kaz parallels there.)

4. James “JT” Thomas, Tocantins (18) – Charles Macaulay, The Secret History by Donna Tartt

In contrast, JT is one of the ‘nicest’ winners in Survivor history.  He is a good ol’ southern boy who everyone’s drawn to, and, like Tyson, no one really wanted to vote him out even though they knew he’d win if he got to the end.  He’s pretty much The Golden Boy… but he also knows that people see him as altruistic and he’s ready to use that to his advantage (e.g., when Stephen admitted that he hadn’t wanted to bring JT to the final 2, JT acted like it was a deep personal betrayal and then later admitted that he was putting that on for show to garner sympathy).  So, for The Golden Boy who can be a bit of an asshole, Charles Macaulay is the perfect fit.  He seems the type who’d be able to win over anyone’s trust just by batting his eyelashes, but he also has that underlying manipulative streak.

3. Yul Kwon, Cook Islands (13) – Noa Baek, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

When it came down to the final 3 players this season, the two that were in contention to win were Yul, the quiet, understated, intelligent player, and Ozzy, one of the best physical competitors in Survivor history who won most of the challenges.  Yul won by a single vote, which I was thrilled about, because if I were on a Survivor jury I’d prioritize intellect over physical strength any day, and I loved his strategic game play.  The first character who came to mind for Yul was Noa, whose quiet sort of intelligence could be a huge asset, and allow him to slide under the radar.

2. Parvati Shallow, Micronesia (16) – Vanda, Venus in Fur by David Ives

(aka my wife.)  Parvati Shallow is the quintessential femme fatale of Survivor – everyone gravitates to her, and she is the queen of manipulation.  In a good-natured way, though; she always has a smile on her face and she knows it’s just a game.  But still, she can be pretty ruthless, and Vanda is a perfect fictional counterpart to her.  At the beginning of the play, Vanda is a beautiful woman who appears to be willing to do anything to appease the male playwright/director she’s auditioning for, but throughout the course of the play the power dynamic gradually shifts, and Vanda ends up in total control.

1. Kim Spradlin, One World (24) – Sansa Stark, A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin

In my opinion, the best Survivor winner, who played one of the best and most understated social, physical, and strategic games.  Kim is in control of her entire season from start to finish – she decides who goes home on nearly every vote, but she doesn’t let anyone know that she’s pulling the strings; she’s more subtle about it.  It reminds me so much of Sansa Stark and the way she quietly manipulates everyone around her at King’s Landing – e.g., goading Joffrey into fighting where it’s the most dangerous in a way that’s so subtle you can hardly even tell she’s doing it.  I think Sansa would be dismissed early on by her tribemates on Survivor for not being particularly capable, but then she’d sneak up on them and absolutely kick ass.

Who else in the bookish community watches Survivor?  Let me know!!

book review: Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

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ASKING FOR IT by Louise O’Neill
★★★★★
Quercus, 2015

Asking For It is a difficult book. As if the subject matter isn’t disturbing and harrowing enough – an 18-year-old girl is raped and then ostracized from her community because of it – Louise O’Neill’s approach to this story is ruthlessly, unnervingly honest. Emma O’Donovan’s story isn’t one of healing and closure and happy endings, and it can be hard to read because of that, but it shows an important side to this story that we don’t often see depicted in fiction.

The most striking thing about Asking For It is how unlikable our heroine Emma is. The first quarter of the book is devoted to her treating her friends rather poorly and treating prospective partners like trophies; she’s stuck-up, vain, and self-centered. She wears short skirts and low-cut dresses, she drinks a lot of alcohol and takes drugs recreationally, and when she’s raped by four boys, the question in absolutely everyone’s mind – from her classmates to her parents to strangers who pass her on the street – is ‘wasn’t she asking for it?’ Louise O’Neill challenges this absolutely vile conception of what a ‘good victim’ should look like: someone who’s a virgin, who dresses modestly, whose trauma responses fit perfectly into the DSM-5. People like Emma (though she’s fictional, she’s all too real) don’t fit into this mold and their allegations of rape are often met with disdain, which is why it’s all the more critical that we support them.

Obviously, a book tackling an important and difficult subject matter doesn’t in and of itself make it a good book, so I’m glad to say that I was blown away by Asking For It on just about every level. O’Neill’s writing is stunning (I did such a double take when I flipped to the back cover and saw how young she is – not that young people can’t be good writers, obviously! but this book is nearly flawless on a technical level). Her characters are three-dimensional – Emma isn’t an archetype straight out of Mean Girls; she’s pretty and popular and vain, but it’s all rooted in a deep sense of insecurity that’s tied heavily into her upbringing, which O’Neill deftly explores in the way Emma relates to her family. I also liked that I didn’t at any point feel like I was being preached to, which is something I occasionally feel while reading YA as an adult. O’Neill explores these issues with subtlety and doesn’t shy away from asking difficult questions of her readers. My one minor critique is that the rate at which secondary characters are introduced at the beginning of the novel is a little excessive – the first thirty or so pages were me going ‘wait, who is that?’ – but once over this hurdle, the book settles into a gripping pace.

This book isn’t going to be for everyone, and I’d certainly advise that you proceed with caution if you’re triggered by this subject matter or if you struggle with anxiety (my heart was racing pretty much the entire time I was reading). But it is such a critically important contribution to the discussion of rape culture. O’Neill fearlessly advocates justice for all rape victims, not just the ones whose stories are easier to digest, that fit better into our conceived narrative of what ‘counts’ as rape. We need to stop blaming rape victims and start listening to their stories, full stop.

book review: Too Close to Breathe by Olivia Kiernan

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TOO CLOSE TO BREATHE by Olivia Kiernan
★★★★☆
Dutton, April 3, 2018

Despite my love of thrillers, one subgenre that I tend to stay away from is the police procedural – I’m just not a big fan of storytelling that relies heavily on a set formula. But I decided to pick up Too Close to Breathe anyway, because you know me, I’ll read anything if it’s Irish.

And I mostly really enjoyed this. I think part of it is that it’s been so long since I read a police procedural that I was ready for a foray back into the genre. It’s still not my favorite type of thriller, and I probably won’t pick up another one any time soon, but I think I’ll check out the next book in Olivia Kiernan’s series whenever it’s published. The plotting in Too Close to Breathe was intricate, the subject matter was darker than dark but not particularly gratuitous, the characters were compelling, and the writing was mostly really solid (except for one dialogue which actually involved the line “Blah! I don’t go in for that kind of mumbo jumbo.” but I guess we can’t have everything). This book also made me really want a bonsai tree (or more accurately reawakened my desire to own a bonsai tree – this has been an ongoing Thing for me), so all in all I’d say it was a success.

I do have some qualms – I found that there were a couple of gargantuan leaps in logic, mostly involving the way the detectives profile the killer (at one point a man tries to stab a woman but she gets away, so they deduce from practically zero information that he’s probably married and that he has a fetish for mutilating women and since this attempt went awry he’ll most likely try again… what???), and certain details behind the legal proceedings were a little far fetched, but oh well, maybe I couldn’t entirely suspend my disbelief, but I don’t know, sometimes I find nitpicking to be so tedious. I raced through this book, especially the second half – it’s undeniably engaging and entertaining and that’s pretty much all I could ask for.

I also really loved Frankie’s character, which is the main reason I’m interested in continuing this series. I’m a huge fan of flawed female characters, and Frankie’s tragic backstory was less a tragic backstory than one traumatic event that happened a few months back, and I like that Too Close to Breathe begins when Frankie’s still in the middle of dealing with the aftermath. Overall, a promising start to what I hope ends up being an interesting series that will inevitably draw comparisons to Tana French – definitely worth a read if you’re a fan of the crime-thriller genre.

Thank you Penguin First to Read and Olivia Kiernan for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

book review: Tin Man by Sarah Winman

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TIN MAN by Sarah Winman
★★★★★
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, May 15, 2018

Tin Man is a beautiful, tender, deeply moving novel that packs a far greater punch than I would have thought possible for its short page count. It has all the heart and heartbreak of something like The Heart’s Invisible Furies – and not a watered down version, either, just more compact. I put it down feeling drained and devastated and deeply impressed at the extent to which such a simple story was able to get under my skin.

Tin Man is told from the alternating perspectives of Ellis and Michael, two childhood friends who once fell in love. But at the beginning of the novel, Ellis is alone and grieving for his dead wife, and Michael is nowhere to be found. The rest of the story puts the pieces together in a non-linear fashion, creating snapshots of Ellis’ and Michael’s lives until we finally see the full picture.

From the very first page this is an achingly lonely and bittersweet book. My heart felt heavy even before we learned why exactly Ellis is grieving, because the atmosphere is rife with nostalgia and regret; the characters are all consumed with missed opportunities and thoughts of better days. It’s hard not to connect to the novel’s emotionality to some degree, even before you’re pulled into the story that is uniquely Ellis’ and Michael’s. And what great characters they are – flawed and unhappy and afraid to grasp at the happiness that’s within their reach.

This book makes me appreciate the art of brevity in storytelling – Winman’s prose is incisive and her execution of this story is succinct; not a single word is out of place and not a single page is wasted. Tin Man manages to be a subtle yet thorough meditation on first love, freedom, solitude, and the indelible marks we leave on each other’s lives. By the end of this I wanted more, out of a selfish desire to stay immersed in these pages even longer, but nothing was missing. It’s not a perfect book because there is probably no such thing, but it comes closer than anything I’ve read in a while.

Thank you to G.P. Putnam’s Sons and Sarah Winman for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

book review: Bury What We Cannot Take by Kirsten Chen

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BURY WHAT WE CANNOT TAKE by Kirsten Chen
★★★★☆
Little A, March 20, 2018

 

Bury What We Cannot Take is a captivating novel about one family’s attempt to flee from Communist China in 1957. Having been granted only 3 travel visas to Hong Kong for 4 family members, Seok Koon is forced to leave one of her children behind in order to legally exit the country, and Kirsten Chen explores the ramifications of this harrowing decision.

Bury What We Cannot Take is actually everything I had hoped Girls Burn Brighter was going to be. Both novels follow two parties which have been separated and which spend the novel seeking a reunion, and in both cases, these stories are filled to the brim with tragedy. But where Girls Burn Brighter indulges (at least in my opinion – more here) a bit too heavily in the gruesome details of its characters’ plights, Bury What We Cannot Take is more interested in the kind of resilience needed to survive. Though the chapters which follow the left-behind child can be difficult to read, I felt that the narrative was approached with sensitivity, and it quickly earned my emotional investment.

This novel is deceptively short for 300 pages, and as a result, my only complaint is that at times it felt a bit rushed. Though I loved how compelling and immersive it was – I think I read 20% in one sitting and then finished it in another sitting the next day – certain plot points were glossed over, and I wouldn’t have minded spending a bit more time with the Ong family.

But ultimately, I really enjoyed this. It’s a fantastic look at Communist China and its insidious regime, which follows a host of complex, sympathetic characters aged across multiple generations. Though I hadn’t heard of Kirsten Chen before this, I’ll definitely be looking into anything she writes in the future.

Thank you to Netgalley, Little A, and Kirsten Chen for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

top 10 tuesday: Books On My Spring TBR

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and The Bookish which is now hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl.

March 20: Books On My Spring TBR

 

EDIT with links to reviews:

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill: ★★★★★
The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie: ★★★★☆
Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan: ★★★★☆
Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan: ★★☆☆☆
Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter: ★★★★☆

In general I’m not a big fan of weekly meme prompts that are about your TBR, because there’s only so much you can say about a book you haven’t read yet, but I felt like doing this one to get organized.  I’m currently reading Tin Man by Sarah Winman and Too Close to Breathe by Olivia Kiernan, and when I finish those I’ll be caught up with ARCs at long last, and I’m looking forward to tackling the many unread books I already own.  Here are 10 that I’m looking forward to reading in the near future – I may not stick to this list completely*, but you get the idea.  It’s a combination of Christmas presents, books that were lent to me, and books that have been sitting on my shelf.

*Though I will absolutely be reading Asking for It and Murder at the Vicarage, as both of those were included on my 5-star predictions list and I want to wrap that up soon.  (That also means pushing myself to finally finish Days Without End, which… ugh.  Let’s just say this is not going as expected.)

Have you guys read any of these?  Which should I read first?  Comment and let me know!

book review: Medea by Christa Wolf

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MEDEA by Christa Wolf
★★★★★
Nan A. Talese, 1998
originally published in 1996

 

About a year ago I read and loved David Vann’s take on the Medea myth, Bright Air Black. It follows the original story very closely and offers few surprises in terms of plot for those already familiar with the tale, but it endeavors and succeeds in giving Medea a narrative voice, allowing her to tell her own story. Christa Wolf’s Medea, published 20 years earlier than Bright Air Black, is another feminist victory for this narrative, but interestingly, Wolf’s and Vann’s interpretations of Medea’s character couldn’t be more different. I love them both.

Vann’s is very straightforward. Though he at times renders her character sympathetic in a way that’s deeply unsettling, his Medea is every bit as violent and vindictive as you’d expect. Wolf approaches the narrative from a different vantage point altogether. What if Corinth stood something to gain from Medea being painted as a monster? This is the question Wolf explores in this politically-driven retelling, narrated in a series of monologues by Medea, Jason, Glauce, and other individuals in the royal court at Corinth.

The first thing that struck me as soon as I finished Medea’s first chapter and started reading Jason’s was how startlingly different their narrative voices were, which I think is such an incredible and impressive feat to accomplish in a book like this, which hinges on different characters’ perspectives telling the same story. The other thing that struck me was the mastery and lyricism of Wolf’s prose (translated beautifully from the German by John Cullen).

It’s possible they sense my unbelief, my lack of faith in anything. It’s possible they can’t bear that. When I ran over the field where the frenzied women had strewn your dismembered limbs, when I ran over that field, wailing in the deepening darkness, and gathered you up, poor, broken brother, piece by piece, bone by bone, that’s when I stopped believing. How could we be meant to come back to this earth in a new form. Why should a dead man’s limbs, scattered over a field, make that field fertile. Why should the gods, who demand from us continual proofs of gratitude and submission, let us die in order to send us back to earth again. Your death opened my eyes wide, Apsyrtus. For the first time I found solace in the fact that I don’t have to live forever. And then I was able to let go of that belief born out of fear; to be more exact, it repelled me.

I mean, that’s stunning.

What I love so much about mythological retellings; the reason I read the same stories over and over again written by different authors, is that each retelling offers something new, each author interacts with the original story in a different way. That’s clear in the stark contrast between Medea and Bright Air Black, how one can render Medea as a victim and the other as a villain, while both staying, in their own way, true to the original myth. Wolf’s retelling is also concerned with the greater political context of Corinth at the time of Medea and Jason’s arrival – it reflects on how a community is willing to turn a blind eye to its leaders’ faults, which is relevant not only in our current political climate, but also to Wolf’s own life, when you consider that she grew up in the GDR. This is what I mean when I talk about the universality of myth, and how it belongs to everyone, and how individuals from different cultures and different backgrounds can all draw different conclusions from the same story, and why Euripides’ and Seneca’s versions of Medea remain so important thousands of years after they were written. Wolf’s Medea, beautifully written, thoughtful, and resonant, is the perfect reminder of this story’s relevance.

discussion: Retellings, Canon, & Fanfiction

This post is inspired by a brief series of tweets that I wrote earlier, followed by an interesting conversation with a friend that got me thinking about this even more critically… I’ll start with my tweets, which are as follows:

I get unreasonably annoyed when people refer to mythological retellings as fanfiction. There is no hard and fast canon for mythology – that’s the point. Even Sophocles and Euripides told the same stories in different ways.

Mythology belongs to everyone. We have fragments of stories and glimpses of these characters from 3000 years ago and we all draw different conclusions. That’s the magic of it. Every interpretation is valid.

Side note – I am not bashing fanfiction! I love fanfiction. But in reviews of contemporary mythological stories, it’s used as a pejorative to try to undermine legitimacy. What exactly makes something a valid contribution to a canon which isn’t fixed to begin with?

I also think there’s probably something gendered in this….. you see the fanfiction criticism leveled against Christa Wolf and Madeline Miller much more often than Robert Graves or Colm Toibin.

Anyway, as I said, I then got talking to a friend who admitted that she’s referred to things like Paradise Lost as fanfiction, not to discredit the legitimacy of Paradise Lost, but to uplift fanfiction, which we both agree is a perfectly valid form of storytelling. We realized we were coming at the exact same conclusion from two different vantage points – I was saying ‘none of it is fanfiction; it’s all valid’ and she was saying ‘all of it is fanfiction; it’s all valid.’

Where do you guys fall on that? In general do you think published retellings should be considered fanfiction?

Anyway, what adds a level of complication to this when you’re talking about mythology is that mythological canon itself can be so hard to pin down. What do we consider ‘canon’ in Greek mythology? The Iliad, certainly, even if that story was around before Homer. What about the Aeneid? Even though it was written 900 years after the Iliad and uses many of its same characters? What about Dante’s Divina Commedia – do we accept that Odysseus/Ulysses burning in hell for his trickery is the definitive conclusion of this character’s narrative?

Fast forward several thousand years – let’s look at something like The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, or Medea by Christa Wolf, or Bright Air Black by David Vann. None of these novels are ‘retellings’ in the sense that they, for example, take the story of Achilles and set it on the moon.  They’re all set in the same time period as the original stories, and they attempt to expand on the characterizations that we’re familiar with.  Do we classify any/all of their interpretations as fanfiction? Or do we embrace them all into an ever-expanding concept of mythological canon, even if Medea and Bright Air Black contain contradictory interpretations of Medea’s character?

And finally, what do you think of the gender argument – do you think the fanfiction criticism is more often leveled against female writers (whether consciously or not) in an effort to undermine their credibility?

Sorry, I know I’ve asked a lot of disjointed questions here… I just thought this was some pretty interesting food for thought. Do you guys have any thoughts on this? Let’s discuss!