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Autobiography of Red Paperback – July 27, 1999
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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.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 alternate Paperback edition.
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.
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 alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
As I read the novel, I had to force myself not to judge, but to observe; it was easier the second time through. Still, my heart aches for Geryon, and his vulnerability. Carson beautifully captures Geryon's plight "outside and inside." My chest still tightens as I recall Geryon's struggle as he is left to fend for himself, first by his brother's apathy, then by his brother's violence, the cruelty of love lost, and finally the cost of his freedom.
"Who can a monster blame for being red?"
My heart aches for Geryon as he searches for meaning and an understanding of the distance between himself and the ones he loves, and his place in time and space.
Alice Munro captured the sentiment best: "this book is amazing -- I haven't discovered any writing in years so marvelously disturbing."