Tag Archives: Fiction

Reading Ovid: Metamorphoses – Book Two

Metamorphoses
Ovid
Translated by David Raeburn

Title: Metamorphoses
Author: Ovid, translated by David Raeburn
Published: Reprint, 2004
ISBN-13: 978-0140447897
Publisher: Penguin Classics

Book OneBook ThreeBook FourBook FiveBook SixBook SevenBook EightBook Nine Book Ten Book Eleven Book TwelveBook ThirteenBook FourteenBook Fifteen

Book Two has 875 lines on 43 pages.

So much already vaguely familiar and so much new to learn.  They’re right, Ovid is everywhere in our history, literature, art, etc.  It’s like sitting down with a great history book, in which I learn the origin of every day things.

As is to be expected, Phaethon‘s ride in his father’s (Helios) carriage was a cataclysmic disaster.  Never swear on the river Styx unless you are truly willing to do whatever is asked of you.  Gods sure can be dumb sometimes.

Good grief, the men in Ovid’s tale are just …

When Jupiter spied her [Callisto] lying exhausted and unprotected,
he reckoned:  ‘My wife will never discover this tiny betrayal;
or else, if she does, oh yes, the joy will make up for the scolding!’
(lines 422-424)

Mercury:
He assumed no disguise, as beauty is always so full of confidence.
Justly sure of his charms…
(line 731-732)

The story of Envy is really something. Minerva is angry with Agraulos for her greed in promising to help Mercury gain the love of Herse. Minerva goes to the caves of Envy and orders her to strike Agraulos. When Mercury returns, she refuses to move away from Herse’s door, so he turns Agraulos into a statue.

“… She simply sat there, a lifeless statue;
the stone was not even white, but stained by her own black envy.”
(lines 831 – 832)

Jupiter returns for the last story in Book Two, turning himself into a gentle bull so as to lure Europa onto his back and into the sea for … well, we all know by now what Jupiter is best known for when he’s after a woman not his wife.

There’s also the theme of talking too much, and out of turn, as in the story about Raven and Crow in which Crow tries to warn Raven that he will be turned black for gossiping. And Old Battus who sells Mercury out to himself by accepting a reward from him for both promising not to tell anyone where Mercury’s cows are, and for telling Mercury, in disguise, where his cows are. Ouch.

Reading Ovid: Metamorphoses – Book One

Metamorphoses
Ovid
Translated by David Raeburn

Title: Metamorphoses
Author: Ovid, translated by David Raeburn
Published: Reprint, 2004
ISBN-13: 978-0140447897
Publisher: Penguin Classics

Book TwoBook ThreeBook FourBook FiveBook SixBook Seven Book EightBook Nine Book Ten –  Book Eleven Book TwelveBook ThirteenBook Fourteen – Book Fifteen

Conventions:  I refer to the characters in Metamophoses as Roman Ovid has.  Links, for the most part, go to Wikipedia which refers to the characters as Greeks.  For my purposes, Wikipedia provides a good overview about Greco-Roman mythology.

In 779 lines, the equivalent of 44 pages, Ovid has a lot to say.  Stories galore populate these lines.  A lot of “aha!” moments for me as the origins of the laurel tree or the pipes of pan, are revealed.

I’m doing my best not to recap because good ones can be found all over the internet, like this one.

Ambitious Ovid implores the gods to inspire him to

“spin a thread from the world’s beginning
down to my own lifetime, in one continuous poem.”
(line 3).

From the Creation story in which chaos is turned into order, I love this description about the stars:

“Nature had hardly been settled within its separate compartments
when stars, which had long been hidden inside the welter of Chaos,
began to explode with light all over the vault of the heavens”
(lines 68 – 70)

The banquet of  Lycaon, who tested Jove‘s omniscience by serving a roasted human.  Gross and disgusting.  Just …. eww.  But Jove knew what was what and Lycoan’s punishment was transformation into a wolf, a lycan.

“The house was in uproar;  passions blazed as they called for the blood
of the reckless traitor; as, when that band of disloyal malcontents
raged to extinguish the name of Rome by murdering Caesar.”
(lines 99 -102).

In case his contemporary audience doesn’t understand the severity of what Lycaon has done, Ovid tells them by comparing him to those who killed Julius Caesar.  I can picture knives plunging in high dudgeon.

As Jove is threatening to kill everything with a terrible flood, the gods wail about no one being left to serve them, and deliver delicious tidbits.  Can’t have that.

“But still a murmur went round:  Who will bring to our altars the offerings
of incense?  Is earth to be left to the mercies of ravaging wild beasts?”
(lines 247 – 248)

The Flood story echoes the story in Genesis.  Everyone and everything dies, except Deucalion and Pyrrha.  As the waters recede Deucalion wails,

” … Here is the world with its glorious lands, from east to west; and here are we,
an inglorious crowd of two.”  (lines 343 -345).

I love that phrase, “an inglorious crowd of two.”  It illustrates just how alone and scared they must be.  Everything they have known is gone and it is just the two of them alone, facing unknowable challenges.

Themis tells Deucalion and Pyrrha to cover their heads, untie their robes, and toss stones over their backs toward the sea, in order to repopulate the world.

“And so our race is a hard one, we work by the sweat of our brow,
and bear the unmistakable marks of our stony origin, …”  (lines 414 – 415)

I will say one thing for Ovid, he doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the ugly side of the gods.  The story of Io, for instance.

Jove, not well known for his faithfulness to his wife, Hera, is off raping Io.  Not wanting to get caught, he turns he rinto a “snow-white heifer.”  Hera is charmed and asks for the cow as a gift.

What was he to do?  Notice Ovid’s use of the word conscience, as though gods would allow a little thing like a conscience get in the way.

To surrender his love
would be cruelly painful, but not to give her would look suspicious.
Conscience would argue for her surrender, his love was against it.
Love indeed would have won the battle; but if he refused
the paltry gift of a cow to the wife …
it would have appeared that the creature was not exactly a heifer.
(lines 617 – 621)

One of my favorite stories is that of Argus, servant to Hera, a giant with one hundred eyes who is set to watch over Io, just to make sure Jove doesn’t get up to any more hanky-panky with her.  Argus is killed by Pan, who chased Syrinx until she turned into marsh willows to get away from him.  Pan uses his pipes to lure Argus, and all his eyes to go to sleep, at which point Pan beheads Argus.

Book One ends with the beginning of the story of Phaethon, who decides to prove the Sun god is his father.  Even if you don’t know the story, you just know chaos is about to ensue.

 

 

Review: Adam + Evelyn

Adam + Evelyn
Ingo Schulze

100 Pages a Day:
Part OnePart TwoPart Three

Another in the Canongate series, featuring global writers retelling myths.

Imagine what it would be like to leave a place where all your needs were met for a place in which you now have  freedom of movement but must scrabble to meet your needs?

Adam had everything he wanted:  a home, a thriving tailor business, food, a car that ran, women …

One day Evelyn quits her job waiting tables and comes home to find Adam having sex with one of his clients in the the bathtub.  Enough already, Evelyn decides, and leaves to take the vacation to Hungary she and Adam had planned together without him.

Adam cannot understand what has gotten into Evelyn.  He packs his car, including pet turtle, and heads off to follow her and friends, Simone and Michael, into Hungary.  Throughout most of the book, he simply does not comprehend why Evelyn is so angry with him.

There is bickering galore as Evelyn tries to tell Adam why she’s mad, why she’s sleeping with Michael, and why she’s decided not to go back to East Germany, but wants to head into the West to make her own way.

Set against the history of politics in Eastern Europe (there’s a chronology included) and the fall of borders and, eventually, the Berlin Wall, Adam + Evelyn is Ingo Schulze‘s (German) version of what happens to Adam & Eve after God expels them from Eden and they must make their own way in the world.

100 Pages a Day: Adam + Evelyn Part Three

Part One Part Two

Pages 199 – 284
Adam & Evelyn keep arguing, about nothing. It’s practically boring now. They’ve made it to the West, just as their car dies for good.

In their hotel room, Adam finds a copy of the bible and begins to read the creation story of Adam & Eve in Genesis.

The next morning, at breakfast, the mechanic returns to tell them he’ll buy the car from them.  There’s just no fixing it.

Taking the money, they phone Adam’s aunt and uncle asking for a place to stay while he and Evelyn get settled in West Germany and begin again.

There’s an interrogation of sorts in an embassy so they can get their papers sorted and their continued living in the West will be approved.  Adam continues to carry the bible he took from the hotel in Bavaria.

More bickering.  Adam thinks getting to the West is going to be disastrous.  Evelyn looks at it as a positive thing, at least she’ll get to go to university now.  There’s a reunion with Katja, who introduces them to her boyfriend, Markel.

Evelyn learns she is pregnant.  Adam wants to know who the father is, him or Michael.  While staying with Adam’s family, he starts to look for clients but discovers that women buy ready-made off the rack and don’t want a custom tailor.  He grouses.  Evelyn keeps trying to cheer him up, to no avail.

The wall between East and West Germany comes down.  Those from the East are skeptical that this will change anything.  Adam returns to his home in the East and finds it trashed.  Appliances have been stolen, the photos of Adam’s models in his creations have been torn apart.  Even his bicycle has been stolen.  He returns with the box of photographs.  Evelyn, thinking he can use them as a portfolio, tapes them back together and, with Katja, puts them in albums.

Soon, Adam has a part-time job with a shop doing alterations.  Evelyn has been accepted to university.  Katja and Marek help them get into a room in the same house Katja and Marek live in.

The book ends with Adam standing in the backyard of his new home standing over a fire and burning his photographs, giving a short laugh over each photo.  Evelyn watches from the kitchen, while the neighbors watch in alarm.  Evelyn, at last, feels content.

100 Pages a Day: Adam + Evelyn Part Two

Part OnePart Three

Pages 100 – 198

Tension crackles.  Between the five:  Adam, Evelyn, Katja, Simone, Michael and later, Pepi, whose parents own the home at which they’re all staying.

There is also political tension in the air, people are gathering at borders trying to get from Eastern Europe to the West.  But even to move from East Germany to Austria and then on to Hungary takes a lot of effort and forbearance.  Everyone must have their papers in order, and even then, crossing anywhere isn’t a guaranteed thing.

Adam really doesn’t understand why Evelyn is mad at him.  He just doesn’t understand how having sex with his clients should matter when she’s the one he loves.

Evelyn starts having sex with Michael which really perturbs people, especially Adam.  None of the main characters seem to really know what they want, except to be angry at each other.

At a bar, Micheal’s car gets broken into.  All his and Evelyn’s papers have been stolen.  Adam drives them, including Katja, to the embassies in Budapest.

Michael tries to explain to Adam what it’s like to live and work in West Germany.  The differences between East and West.  Adam really sees no reason to leave the East, which mixed up Evelyn has now decided that she wants to leave.

Michael has overstayed his vacation days from his job and heads back.  Evelyn starts having sex with Adam again.  These two continue to argue about everything and nothing.

The news is reporting that in a few days, the borders will be completely open and people will be able to come and go more easily.  Adam is skeptical.  Evelyn is hopeful.

 

 

 

100 Pages a Day: Adam + Evelyn Part One

Part TwoPart Three

Another in the Canongate Myth series, featuring global writers retelling myths.

Part One:  Pages 1-99

Adam is a tailor who likes his female clients a bit too much.  Evelyn walks in on him one day, pants at his ankles, with another woman.  This is too much.

They had planned a trip to Hungary, so Evelyn leaves without Adam.  She goes with her friend Simone, and her cousin from West Germany, Michael.

And Adam?  Adam decides to stalk Evelyn across East Germany into Hungary.  At first, he keeps pace with them, but loses them in Prague in the Czech Republic.

Thinking he knows where Evelyn is going, Adam proceeds to drive, stopping at road stops to take care of necessities.  At one, a woman named Katja asks for a ride to, basically, anywhere.  Adam agrees, and they continue on his way.

When they reach the final destination of Lake Balaton in western Hungary, Evelyn’s friend Simone finds them and gives directions to the place where the rest are staying.

This is set in 1989 just before the Berlin Wall fell.  There are border checks, with tension between the characters about how to get across each border without being pulled over for further searches.  Katja has no papers and Adam sneaks her over the border in the trunk of his car.

I’m enjoying the way Schulze tells this story.  It has good pacing and is filled with interesting tidbits alluding to the way life must have been for the young citizens of Eastern Europe when things were changing, but not obviously so.

Review: The Hurricane Party

The Hurricane Party
Klas Ostergren

100 Pages a Day:
Part OnePart Two Part Three

Overall, the best part of The Hurricane Party, was the retelling of the Lokasenna, the banquet of the Norse gods featuring the trickster god, Loki, killing and insulting others. You know, causing trouble as trickster gods do.

This part was interesting and read smoothly, even when tangents were taken to explain the background story of Loki and some other character.

It was the foundation laying that was stilted and somewhat mundane.  It’s necessary to meet Hanck and learn his story, and for the scenery to be explained as classist, grey and toxic (literally) for the ordinary worker.

We learn many details about Hanck but it truly felt as though Ostergren had taken bullet points about Hanck’s life and then tried to flesh them out with some details.  Most of these details make little sense in the context of the story and add nothing to the plot of Hanck finding, losing, and learning about love.

That the innkeeper’s red-haired daughter was a virgin and her hair was perfect in the calibration of some obsolete gauge still has me wondering.

I often remind myself that I must meet the author where he is, not where I want him to be.  This could have been a more interesting story about a man living in 1984 like times who learns about love through the death of his son.  Ostergren’s way of telling this story wasn’t how I wanted it to read.  This is another case of author and reader being on different pages.

100 Pages a Day: The Hurricane Party Part Three

The Hurricane Party Klas Ostergren

Part OnePart Two

Pages 199 – 214

Bora finishes telling Hanck the tale of Toby’s death.  There’s a lot of history and side stories to explain the inner workings of The Clan and their feuds, especially Loki’s part in all of it.

The next morning, Hanck departs for home, hoping to come to terms with how Toby died.

Hanck has been told that Loki frequents a bar called The Colonial Club, so Hanck goes there in the hopes of confronting Loki.  An older whore joins Hanck at his table and lures him into talking about his sorrows.

She writes a note for Hanck to use to skip the line of supplicants at the Old Man’s residence, and get direct and immediate access.  Hanck, understandably, is hesitant about using this letter.  Who is this woman to have connections with the highest level of The Clan?

Dubious though he is, Hanck decides to give it a try.  To his surprise, he is ushered into the Old Man’s, Odin’s, presence.  After reading the letter, he reveals to Hanck that the whore at The Colonial Club was Loki himself.  Furthermore, Odin reveals that he knows what happened to Toby, both the time he was delivered to the hospital and the time he died while serving at the banquet.

Hanck tells Odin he wants to see his son, so Odin makes a deal.  Having enjoyed Hanck’s reports from the time when he was an insurance adjuster, Odin wants Hanck to write the same type of report about love.  Not the drivel that poets and storytellers write, but a sharp report in which love can be codified.  Hanck is dubious about his ability to do this task, but agrees if only he is allowed to see his son one more time.

Can you turn love into something sensible, rational and even logical?  If you can, then you would also be capable of forgiving.” (p. 280)

Hanck is then taken to the City of the Dead where he has one last conversation with Toby, in which it is revealed that he has met his mother and knows his father lied to him about her.  Then, Hanck visits the display of Loki’s torment, tied up under a  snake whose  venom will kill him should any touch him.  Loki’s wife sits next to him, holding a bowl above his head, catching the venom as it drips down.  Eventually, the bowl gets full and she must step outside to empty it.  Then Loki’s torture can be seen by all.

When he arrives home, Hanck sits at his typewriter and thinks that Odin has handed him an impossible task.  How can love be codified?

Then an invitation to the meeting of the Affect Commission to participate in a forum about love and how to codify it.  Hanck sits uncomfortably warm in the turtleneck he bought Toby years ago and listens to experts speak about love and its fluidity.

At the interval he leaves because he’s realized that these experts have it all wrong.  “Love is unfathomable!” (p. 311)  He returns home and sits at his typewriter and finds he knows how to write about love, by writing about his love for Toby and their life together.

 

100 Pages a Day: The Hurricane Party Part Two

The Hurricane Party Klas Ostergren

Part OnePart Three

Pages 98 – 198, this section really picks up steam and gets to the heart of the story.

Earlier in the book, when Hanck’s mother dies, her last words are “He will be a chef!”  She utters this before Hanck even met Toby’s mother.

Toby is described as sensitive and builds imaginary worlds, happily playing alone.  As he grows, he begins to show talent in the kitchen and takes over the cooking duties.  As he approaches adulthood, his skills become honed enough that he begins to work as a chef in higher end restaurants, from which he brings left over food and wine to share with his father.

Once a year, The Clan holds an enormous dinner party on one of the islands of the archipelago.  Toby leaves home and begins working at the inn which hosts this party and becomes a chef of great acclaim.

Hanck is again visited by two men dressed in lavender.  These communicators tell him that his son has died, at the age of 20.  As he progresses through the stages of grieving, Hanck wanders the pleasure district in search of something to dull his ache.

Finally, Hanck decides to confront the people who killed his son, and gets a ticket on the ferry which takes him to the inn on the farthest island in the archipelago.

One of the nine sisters who manage the inn arranges to meet Hanck in the library and tells him the story of Toby’s (known as Fimafeng to those he worked with) death.  Bora tells Hanck that Loki killed Toby because he sneezed.  That Toby didn’t have the sense to cover his face, or excuse himself after he sneezed.  He stood with a beatific grin on his face and Loki took offense and killed Toby.

Remember Toby’s mother was from the sect called The Sneezers, which explains the beatific look.  As Bora continues the tale, it becomes clear Loki was spoiling for a fight, his ego couldn’t handle all the other gods heaping praise on Fimafeng.

Now comes the retelling of the Norse story of Lokasenna.  The Clan is the clan of Norse gods who meet once a year for an all out bacchanalia (to mix mythic metaphors).  In the tale of Lokasenna, Loki is banned from the banquet by the gods after having killed Fimafeng.  But he returns and begins insulting everyone present.  Many respond in kind, and tensions escalate.  Odin strains to keep the peace as Loki tells tales of outlandish sexual situations, stories that should have remained unspoken.

Hanck has checked in for some unimaginable excitement as he learns of how Toby died, and the political wrangling going on between the members of The Clan.  Infuriated grief-stricken father, meet narcissistic trickster god who has angered all the other gods of The Clan.

 

100 Pages a Day: The Hurricane Party Part One

The Hurricane Party Klas Ostergren

Part TwoPart Three

After reading Margaret Atwood’s wonderful retelling of the myth of Penelope and Odysseus, The Penelopiad, I discovered there’s an entire series planned by Canongate, featuring global writers retelling myths.

The Hurricane Party, written by Klas Östergren is part of the Myths series.

In pages 1 through 98, 1984 has reared its ugly head in Sweden.  The cities are bleak, the administrative bureaucracy is being run by a fearsome organization called The Clan.

The book opens with a description of listening to organ music on the radio.  It took a while to understand it’s just the notes.  A note could be broadcast for days or weeks with no change.  An entire cottage industry has grown around gambling on when the note will change and to what.

Hanck Örn used to work for an insurance company run by The Clan.  His job was to investigate claims made to this company, a flimsy cover for The Clan’s protection racket.

In these first pages, the reader learns that Hanck was fired from his job and, returning to the scene of his last investigation, invests his money in typewriters.  Setting up a workshop in his apartment, Hanck teaches himself to repair and customize them, having found a market which sells obsolete technology to collectors.

On one of his visits, Hanck meets a young woman who tracks him down in his city apartment and spends the night.  Here we learn about the many splintered factions of Christian sects, especially The Sneezers who believe that God can be found in the space of the sneeze where the least amount of control and the largest void intersect.

Months after this encounter, men dressed in lavender arrive to take Hanck to an undisclosed location, which turns out to be a hospital.  His son, three-day old Toby, had been dumped with Hanck’s business card pinned to his swaddling clothes.  On the back of the card is the note, “Mother dead.”  Hanck was taken to the hospital to be informed of his son’s existence, and to decide Toby’s fate.

Perhaps needless to say, Hanck instantly falls in love with Toby and prepares his home for this new entry in his life.

This is a bleak book so far and the writing feels stilted.  I’m willing to admit this could be a cultural miscue on my part.  The translator for this book, Tiina Nunnally, has won awards for her work, so it probably isn’t.  Be that as it may, The Hurricane Party doesn’t read as well as George Orwell.

A little research reveals the myth being retold makes itself obvious later in the book and has to do with Loki as related in the Prose Edda of Norse mythology.