Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Review: 'Metamorphica' by Zachary Mason

My first introduction to myths and legends was during a holiday in Greece when I borrowed (read: stole) a book of Greek myths from my parents. Surrounded by the Greek landscape the gods and goddesses of Olympus felt as real as anything. I have been devoted to them ever since. Studying Greek and Latin in school didn't manage to defeat my love for them and here I am, still chasing down books about them. The latest is Zachary Mason's fascinating Metamorphica, based on Ovid's Metamorphoses. Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 10/07/2018
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A brilliant and daring novel that reimagines Ovid’s Metamorphoses 
In the tradition of his bestselling debut novel The Lost Books of the Odyssey, Zachary Mason’s Metamorphica transforms Ovid’s epic poem of endless transformation. It reimagines the stories of Narcissus, Pygmalion and Galatea, Midas and Atalanta, and strings them together like the stars in constellations—even Ovid becomes a story. It’s as though the ancient mythologies had been rewritten by Borges or Calvino; Metamorphica is an archipelago in which to linger for a while; it reflects a little light from the morning of the world.
Ovid's epic Metamorphoses is a classic. In 250 myths, the long poem tracks the history of the world from creation to Julius Caesar. Ovid's masterpiece has had a major influence on Western literature, from Dante to Shakespeare. His metamorphosis myths diver at times significantly from his Greek sources, yet they have become classic in their own rights. At the heart of many of his reworked myths is the idea of love, while humans come across better than the gods. The transformations in the Metamorphoses are often painful and violent, but then, isn't change always? I loved the Metamorphoses when I first read them, and still loved them when I was made to translate parts of it in school. A collection and reworking of past myths itself, it is no surprise that Ovid himself has given rise to reworkings. Up to now, I was never too bowled over by any of them, but Zachary Mason's Metamorphica is a stunner.

Rather than one connected narrative, Mason's Metamorphica casts each god and goddess as a star and tells the constellations of stories around them. I adored the star charts which started each new section dedicated to a new god or goddess, as well as the mini summaries at the beginning of each story. Rather than give anything away, these mini summaries tie the different stories together, show how each myth is somehow connected to the others. The stories vary in length, some no more than two paragraphs while others span for pages. Yet each brings a surprising new twist to what we know of the stories. Taking an almost psychoanalytical take to these stories, Mason brings out a new side to what we know. While Ovid's Metamorphoses was written entirely from a male view point, Mason frequently switches between male and female narrators, letting Clytemnaestra tell her own rage and allowing the reader to feel Narcissus' emptiness through his own words. Despite having read these stories over and over again, Metamorphica brought me something new and I absolutely devoured this collection of stories. I felt saddened when it was over, but also enriched.

Zachary Mason's writing is poetical and beautiful, both honest and fantastical. There is real grief and pain in his pages, but also beauty and joy, however fleeting. No Greek myth can be accused of having a happy ending and Mason doesn't gloss over that. There is a lot of tragedy in Metamorphica but it is of a kind of beautiful tragedy, the kind which is fated and therefore inevitable. Mason's writing matches this, laying everything on the table while maintaining the mystery of his tales. His takes on these Greek and Latin myths are sharp and to the point, not covering up the ugly truths contained in these myths but almost revelling in them. I adored how he dissected some of the stories, giving me a way to accept Circe's sudden obeisance to Odysseus, for example. Considering how much I have read about these myths I myself was almost surprised by how immediately I fell in love with Metamorphica. I am actually already in the middle of rereading it. Thank you Zachary Mason!

I give this collection...

5 Universes!

Metamorphica completely blew me away. Beautifully written and heartbreaking, Mason rewrites Ovid's Metamorphses in a way that felt both modern and ancient. I'd recommend this to anyone who has an interest in Greek and Latin myths.

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