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Autobiography of Red Paperback – July 27, 1999


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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Edition edition (July 27, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037570129X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375701290
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,796 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red is a novel in verse, the author's first. A classicist by profession as well as a poet, Carson has drawn on antiquity for her cast, updating the myth of Geryon and Herakles. In the original version, of course, Herakles killed the red-skinned, winged Geryon. In Carson's very contemporary retelling, he merely inspires, but does not return, the monster's passion. By choosing Geryon as her central character, Carson can bring up the questions of existence as if they hadn't been asked before. After all, the monster's instincts have not been numbed by civilization. Fires twist through him. We feel the pain of learning the most elementary things, and then the volcanic intensity that comes with that more advanced thing, love. Yet Carson doesn't so much tell the story of Geryon's love as mediate his very being through semiological surfaces: cafes, video stores, lipstick, a library where he shelves government documents with a "forlorn austerity, / tall and hushed in their ranges as veterans of a forgotten war." Carson seldom satisfies herself with an image of the world. Instead she atomizes the world, leaving it broken down, refracted, and glinting. At times her verbal pyrotechnics manage to render pure energy:
A little button at the end of each range activated the fluorescent track above it.
A yellowing 5 x 7 index card
Scotch-taped below each button said EXTINGUISH LIGHT WHEN NOT IN USE.
Geryon went flickering
through the ranges like a bit of mercury flipping the switches on and off.
The librarians thought him
a talented boy with a shadow side.
No novelist could have gotten away with that last line. Yet it's very much to the point: Carson's Geryon is, among other things, a camera freak who doesn't understand that an observer must inevitably alter the nature of the thing observed. Here is Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, cheek-by-jowl with the ancients! And indeed, Carson's achievement is to interweave the archaic and the modern so seamlessly that by the time we finish reading Autobiography of Red, the entire landscape looks inside out. --Mark Rudman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Is it poetry? Is it a novel in verse? A fable? A myth? However you define Carson's distinctive and wildly inventive new work, it is riveting reading. At the center of the narrative is a winged red monster named Geryon; throughout, we see him struggling with his family, falling for the indifferent Herakles, and discovering photography as a means of comfort and escape. Wistful yet whimsical, offhand yet intense, funky yet erudite (Carson, a classics professor at McGill, grounds this work in ancient Greek myth), this is a reading experience like no other.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Anne Carson was born in Canada and teaches ancient Greek for a living. Her awards and honors include the Lannan Award, the Pushcart Prize, the Griffin Trust Award for Excellence in Poetry, a Guggenheim fellowship, and the MacArthur "Genius" Award.

Customer Reviews

Like all masterpieces, this one continues to unravel like the layers of an onion.
Laura Stamps, Copywriter
This is poetry, in that it is beautiful and uses words ever-so carefully, but this is prose, in that it reads as easily as a novel and tells an engaging story.
Ezra e. k. Cooper
The book is beautifully written, and cannot be recommended highly enough, to any reader who wants to read a delicate story in a challenging format.
John Hovig

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By John Hovig on December 21, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Autobiography of Red" is the story of Geryon, a young boy with red skin and large wings, who grows into a young man. He is in love with Herakles, a young man who seems to return Geryon's affection, but is actually quite cruel in his fickleness. The two encounter each other on and off over the years, Geryon seeking love, Herakles seeking adventure. Their paths eventually cross in Buenos Aires, of all places, where Herakles is with another young man, Ancash, recording the sounds of various volcanos. The three venture through South America together, the tension between the three of them almost palpable, at least to the more sensitive two of the group, Ancash and Geryon. It is here that the three must decide on the nature of their friendship, and Geryon on the nature of his life.
This book is written in poetic free verse, and Ann Carson's style is nothing less than magical. It might seem difficult for readers accustomed to straightforward prose, but if one lets the words wash over them, their meaning will all be clear soon enough, and their beauty alone will convince the reader of their merit. The story is based on Greek myth, but rather than Herakles killing Geryon the monster literally, he "kills" by breaking his heart. Ultimately, the book's message seems to be that Geryon must learn to love himself first. The book is beautifully written, and cannot be recommended highly enough, to any reader who wants to read a delicate story in a challenging format.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Emily Sobel on September 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
Anne Carson has created a mindscape. Her choice of style, dialogue (both Internal and Between), and language situate her characters on a mental landscape rather than a physical one. Even the frame of the story grounds the book in time as opposed to space. The book's construction and layout are beautiful. Carson's character Geryon holds such integrity that I now see little red wings on men and women everywhere. Read this book in one or two sittings for a completely overwhelming experience.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 2, 2002
Format: Paperback
Classicist and poet, Anne Carson, has created a playful-but-tragic, present-tense, postmodern fable of obsessive love in her retelling of Stesichoros' "Geryoneis."
For those unfamiliar with the classics, Stesichoros was a Sicilian Greek of the early classical era. Although little of his poetry has survived, we do know it was famous for both its extreme sweetness and its grandeur.
In Carson's modern version of the Geryon myth, Herakles doesn't murder Geryon and steal his magic red cattle; he steals his heart instead. And in Carson's version, the theft of the heart may be quite a bit worse than outright murder, for, rather than dying outright, Geryon dies a little each day and his suffering is thus prolonged and made all the more difficult to endure.
Since this is a present-tense, postmodern tale, Geryon doesn't, however, suffer in silence. He attempts, instead, as a young school boy (though still red and still winged--he presents his teacher with the myth of Geryon as his own autobiography), to create a new world and a new life for himself through his camera lens and through the redemptive qualities of his art. In this way, Geryon's demons are transformed through eroticism and become, if not something of beauty, then something that is, at least, worthwhile.
Although this prose/poetry work is witty and playful, Carson's Geryon is still quite sad. Herakles is so definitely male and he loves Geryon in a stereotypically male manner, i.e., without really knowing the object of his love. Herakles seems out to have a good time and that is that. Although Geryon is red to his core, Herakles knows him so little that he even dreams of him in yellow. This upsets Geryon to the point of torment, who thinks, "Even in dreams he doesn't know me at all.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By "fattsmorla2" on March 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is one of the most interesting books I have read in a while. It moves beautifully between a mysterious, mythic presence to a heavy, all-to-human narrative. And this is to say nothing of its form! The economy of the writing is precise and exacting. The Verse was strangely magical, projecting me into the nebulous space beyond what Carson had written. I will certainly have to read this a few more times, because I think there is still much to be revealed even after one pass.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 31, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book completely fascinated me. I can understand the frustration of some readers, for the book doesn't fit easily into any defined category of genre or style. But I was captivated by its commitment to the imagination, by its fresh play with the traditions of poetry and narrative. The poems which make up the "story" of Geryon are witty and wry; they are also stunning (literally) and deeply poignant. I've read many books in my life, but this one is truly brilliant...and unforgetable.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Melissa on July 17, 2010
Format: Paperback
"It was the year he began to wonder about the noise that colors make. Roses came roaring across the garden at him.
He lay on his bed at night listening to the silver light of stars crashing against the window screen. Most
of those he interviewed for the science project had to admit they did not hear
the cries of the roses
being burned alive in the noonday sun. Like horses, Geryon would say helpfully,
like horses in war."

Autobiography of Red is unlike any book I've every read. As the title suggests, it is a "novel in verse," but don't shy away from it just because it's poetry (and, for some reason, people are afraid of poetry). Don't feel intimidated or "stupid" if you don't get everything...this is a book that demands to be read slowly, and certain parts may be difficult to grasp, but the poetry is very narrative and arranged in a story arc that is easily understood. It is one of those books that is an experience to read, and throughout the book I was continuously reminded of the joy I feel towards the written word. The novel, in fact, could be considered a celebration of the sounds and poetics of words. This short, stunning book re-imagines an ancient Greek epic as a modern coming-of-age story. It is the autobiography of Geryon, a young boy who is a red, winged monster that lives a troubling life. The writing is rich, shocking, raw, and powerful--just read the above excerpt, and you can see how expertly Carson crafts her sentences. The characters are fully realized, coming to life in only a few verses of her pen. I would highly recommend this book, especially for people who like poetry, but want it presented in a more organized way. That being said, I feel that the structure of the book could have been set up a little better, and the pacing could be a little more even.
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