Review: Janette Turner Hospital’s “Orpheus Lost: A Novel”

by writereaderly

Another mixed-bag of a book, in line with recent reviews… Leela and Cobb are smitten as children, Leela and Mishka are smitten as adults, Cobb thinks Mishka is a terrorist (purely for political reasons, cough cough), bad things happen to good people, and everyone’s sorry. This is meant to be a recasting of the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, with O emerging from the underworld only with great difficulty and at unpleasant cost.

Since it’s a retelling of a myth, shall I consider it in keeping with mythological prejudices that Leela is largely powerless, surrounded by men (token dialogue by three other women all told), and is rescued by men from her own tragedy? That because she seeks men out for sex she is (sigh) accused of being a slut and a porn star, and is inherently to blame for the whole nasty caboodle? (Think sex and international politics don’t meet? Just remember Helen of Troy…) Leela’s character is quite richly drawn, but Cobb is little more than a lovelorn, two-bit army hero, and Mishka is only Australian as a pretext for some scenic background descriptions of the Daintree (vivid and charming, btw). I’m disappointed. Turner Hospital’s writing clearly demonstrates high skill, at moments is even utterly sublime – the first chapter is truly dazzling – but why reravel these tired clichés into today’s stories, and why write about a mean, post-9/11 world where armed American men do mean things to (non)suicidal Arab men? I don’t know what new contribution this book makes, really, but I will try perhaps one or two more of her novels in the hope that she breaks out of stagnant old nasties.

Where it came from: AJ’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading: Bed-read, library-read, bed-read two – with arched eyebrows and discomfort
Where it went: Home (eventually)
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to: Music lovers, perhaps
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; Selected Essays by George Orwell; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Kalila and Dimna by Ramsey Woods

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