I’m on vacation. For a whole week! Now, you’d think I’d have started off my long longed for break by getting stuck in a good book, but the reality of it is that last week was rather hectic and all I’ve wanted to do this weekend was chill, do some house chores, cook, and not look at screens or print.

So, time spent reading was minimal this weekend, apart from a fun buddy read with Marjolein over at https://urlphantomhive.com. We took a trip to Ancient Greece yesterday to read Aristophanes’ Clouds.

This was my first dip into Aristophanes’ work and I really liked it. I am not convinced that Aristophanes will become a favourite of mine, tho. I liked Clouds and the questions it posed, but I still much prefer the “pompous” – as Aristophanes describes him – Aeschylus. The Oxford World Classics edition I have also contains two other plays: Frogs and Women at the Thesmophoria. As I know that Frogs will satirise Euripides as well as Aeschylus, I might read Medea before getting back to Aristophanes.

As a side note, I had a little project in August last year which developed out of a craving for stories set in Ancient Greece and Rome, and it appears that I am engaging in a similar project this year.

Earlier this week, I read The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes. I enjoyed the book and Haynes’ very different take on the story of Oedipus and Antigone. Haynes very much re-imagined the characters, the motivations, and as a result, the stories themselves. I appreciated Haynes thinking and her efforts, but ultimately felt that the book was let down by a lack of pace and by the insertion of an afterword in which Haynes explains her changes – that while Sophocles’ version of the story of Jocasta and Oedipus is the best known, the characters also appear in other sources.

Books 9–12 of The Odyssey were a set text in my first term at college, so I was nineteen when I found out that Oedipus’ story wasn’t (and had never been) immutable. In Book 11, Homer describes the moment when Odysseus catches sight of ‘beautiful Epicaste, mother of Oedipus’ in the Underworld. Homer’s version of the Oedipus myth is sketched out in just ten lines of verse, but it’s subtly different from that of Sophocles […]

Haynes, Natalie. The Children of Jocasta (p. 327). Pan Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Therefore, the story of Oedipus is not set in stone. It can be viewed from other perspectives and this is what Haynes has provided in The Children of Jocasta. While I actually liked this approach, a book should be able to stand on its own. It should not need an explanatory note bolted on at the end. I would have appreciated it much more if the explanation had been worked into the text itself. Haynes is a good enough author to be able to work this in, so the absence of the authorial voice, if you, like was something that was missing for me.

In keeping with the theme of Ancient August, I have also made progress reading Mary Beard’s S.P.Q.R. I am loving this book, and I am loving how Beard applies her usual style of focusing not on battles and dates and timelines, but on the people involved, the politics, the society, and explains what events may have meant for the people living at the time. I may also have gotten side-tracked yesterday watching some of Beard’s programmes on YouTube – the Timeline episode about Pompeii was fabulous.
It will be some time before I get to finish my read of S.P.Q.R., but I am in no rush. It’s a fabulous book.

I did however finish two other books this week: Philip Larkin’s Jill, which was just … erm … dull. That’s ok. I needed to try the book and I now know that Larkin is not for me. I liked a couple of his poems, but much like the works of Barbara Pym (whom Larkin admired, but whose writing I also find dull), the thoughts that occupied Larkin’s characters’ minds were not able to interest me at all, nor did I find the humour appealing. Cringing through an entire book is exhausting.

Lastly, I finished Michael Gilbert’s Death Has Deep Roots (1951). The book started out great with a court room drama that was headed towards disaster as the defendant changed her legal advisors at the very last minute and her new barristers struggled for time to prepare a case that seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Thrilling stuff.
Unfortunately, once a little time is granted, the story changes into action mode, where we see threats, stabbings, and people digging up dirt from the past. Yep, this was so boring. I often had to flip back to a previous chapter to find out why we were where we were and what we were trying to accomplish. Seriously, this was not good.
What made the book worse was the ending. Just when I hoped we’d be able to get back to the sparkle of the first chapters, the book plunged into a diatribe on morality.
Now, I understand that this section reflected the mores of its time, or at least the mores of a certain strata middle-class England and – from what I have read – the English legal system at the time. However, as a reader I was not in the mood to put up with outright mysogyny and acceptance of double-standards that was portrayed in the story. What irked me most was that the social issues that were depicted could have been, and only a couple of decades later probably would have been!, picked up as part of the legal drama. But no. Instead of taking apart the bias toward the defendant instilled in both society inside and outside of the court room, Gilbert decided to present a pedestrian solution that seemed to have been pulled out of a hat. It was all very, very disappointing, especially because my first encounter with Gilbert’s work in Smallbone Deceased not long ago had me hope that Gilbert could be another author I would want to read more by.

Reviews posted this week: