Thursday, November 11, 2010
Weight by Jeanette Winterson
Weight by Jeanette Winterson is a layered novel. On the surface, it is a retelling of the Atlas myth. Underneath are deeper themes about choice, commitment, and what it means to serve the gods. (I couldn’t find a third c word but obviously devotion would have fit here nicely.)
Winterson’s prose is so beautiful that I didn’t want to put the book down. I devoured it, ached as I read it, wanted to run out and buy a copy of my own. The novel focuses first on Atlas and his punishment for rebelling against the Olympian gods–holding the cosmos upon his shoulders throughout eternity. At one point, Heracles (or Hercules, if you prefer) carries the burden briefly while Atlas picks the golden apples from Hera’s garden. Hera and Zeus also make pivotal appearances, along with mythic figures. Even Laika, the first living creature to orbit the earth, is given a place on the page.
In the prologue Winterson says that authenticity is important (xv) and even begins with the simple statement that “Choice of subject, like choice of lover, is an intimate decision” (xiii) and Winterson makes a conscious choice to be authentic throughout, infusing this archaic truth into a more immediate truth. For anyone who thinks that the lessons of ancient mythology are no longer relevant, this novel would stand as a defiance against such presumption.
(You can read the prologue here.)
This book is one of the ongoing Canongate series on mythology, a collection of short novels that retell the various myths of the world’s culture. Other authors have contributed their own retellings, including Philip Pullman’s Good Man Jesus, Scoundrel Christ, which I reviewed here. Having enjoyed two of these books so deeply, I am eager to read more from this series (particularly the books by Karen Armstrong and Margaret Atwood).
If more authors wrote with the honesty and beauty of Winterson, I would never write another review because I would be too busy losing myself in words.
PS: It is interesting to note that in wikipedia this novel makes no appearance in the long list of cultural influences. I want to be surprised. I am merely disappointed.