Clytemnestra by Costanza Casati
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What I love about Clytemnestra by Costanza Casati:
• I fell in love with the powerful heroine
• I don’t usually like romantic moments in books/movies, but the few that are here are poetic, rich with sensory detail and a refreshing juxtaposition to the violence of daily life in ancient Greek mythology
• The details and dialogue illuminate beliefs and traditions that built these complex mythologies
• This book was quick read that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I also learned about a subject that can be somewhat inaccessible without a skilled guide
• Beach book for feminist smarties, dark academia/Classics vibes that remind me toppling the patriarchy is a daily task
Throughout the politics and power struggles were gorgeous descriptions of daily life, romance, terrible tragedy, and inner struggles amongst the Greeks. Detail and dialogue pulled me into the characters complex existence.
When she turns to him, he is staring at her, motionless. He has the stillness of animals about him. She wants to lean forward and trace the scar on his cheekbone. The desire is so strong that she can almost feel it under her finger—it is like a crumpled leaf. “My queen,” he says. Nothing else. The morning sun falls on his olive skin, makes his eyes glisten like snow in the sunlight. She is breathless, and she can’t bear it. She picks up her dagger and walks away.
Clytemnestra herself is someone who was raised to be a fierce warrior (which Spartans had a very specific definition of, but she was a warrior in every senses of the word), and yet she still had to suffer through patriarchal oppression and violence. Her power didn’t save her from being a pawn, sacrificed by her own family. In ways, she fought against the inequality inflicted upon her, but she did not escape its effect on her worldview and self-image. When a man discussed his failings with her for the purpose of connection and intimacy, she was disgusted by his vulnerability.
“It shocks her, when he speaks of his failings and weaknesses. The only other men she has known to do that were Tantalus and Odysseus, but they would do it in a way that asserted their power. They spoke of their mistakes to achieve something, to soften and bend the world to their will. That was what Tantalus had done to win her over. Aegisthus doesn’t speak of his failures to gain a reward. His purposelessness appalls her.”
Because Clytemnestra held all of the qualities of a great leader, within the paradigms which she was born, she saw vulnerability as a poor choice, a lack of skill, weakness. It was a necessity to keep iron walls around one’s tender spots, and she showed us how this was done again and again. There are plentiful insights throughout the story that give the reader a deeper sense of the world and struggles in which the characters live.
“It is noble to be gentle, to save others from pain. But it is also dangerous. Sometimes you have to make life difficult for others before they make it impossible for you.”
“Your hatred consumes you,” Castor says gently. “But it also keeps you alive.”
Clytemnestra stops pacing. She can’t help smiling. “You say you don’t understand politics, Aileen, but you understand people. They are one and the same.”
If I were to change the novel, it would be to add more scenes in different locations, additional insights into the development of various relationships, and filling in the jump in time between Clytemnestra leaving her home of Sparta and becoming the captured wife of a tyrant. I wanted to see more of what was happening in detail in other characters lives at times. I wanted to travel to other locations and meet more magical enemies, but the story centered mostly on Clytemnestra’s home bases. I’m sure this is following the actual origins of her story, but I found myself wishing for more, more, more.
I absolutely recommend this book to lovers of retellings of Greek and Roman mythology, fans of dark academia (afterall, I always imagine myself studying the Classics while reading The Secret History), and readers who enjoys beautiful, descriptive writing.
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Rainbow Rainbow by Lydia Conklin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Truly brilliant, honest, queer stories told without judgment of the idiosyncrasies and paradoxes of the human experience. Rainbow, Rainbow by Lydia Conklin takes us inside queer and trans characters’ minds with raw awareness. It took a few chapters for me to adjust to the white-hot honesty, but I settled into a tempo of gratitude for these truths. They were like a map to some of my own memories of adolescence, past relationships, perceived mistakes or contradictions, and the shadowed aspects of all humanity.
It can feel disturbing to read about life’s most undiscussed internal battles and societal issues, and that’s exactly why this book left me contemplating the vital importance of bearing the discomfort of painful truths so we can see with clear and open eyes what’s essential for our growth. Maybe if we dared to be this honest and open with one another in day-to-day life, we could heal wounds and lessen the transmission of unhealed pain from person to person through every aspect of our societies.
Each essay helps us see through another’s eyes what it means to navigate bodies, identities, relationships, needs, and desires all while constantly evolving and changing within and without. Most stories want to promise us some kind of certainty. I know who I am, this story will show you my struggle and my resolution – that’s what we commonly see, but it’s not how we actually function. Rainbow, Rainbow flows more like real life. There aren’t neat resolutions or comforting moral lessons. It is raw, true, often ugly, not precious but sacred because we are so used to seeking inspiration in ideals and washing our hands clean by denying the messiness that is the human experience.
I would recommend this book to lovers of creative nonfiction and memoir, LGBTQIA+ readers, and fans of authors like Melissa Febos and Carmen Maria Machado.
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Siren Queen by Nghi Vo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I just started reading this book for the second time and have already found new understandings of the story! Nghi Vo is fantastic! She’s masterful at creating unconventional, complex, magical worlds without overexplaining the mechanics. She teaches us her magic by immersion into beautiful yet ominous realities.
Dark magic is the life force that propels Hollywood’s elite to stardom in Siren Queen by Nghi Vo. Those willing to sacrifice whatever is asked get a chance to burn so brightly they become almost untouchable, immortal in more ways than one. These silver screen stars to be are willing to trade their mortality, and often their freedom, to mysterious forces so that they may rise above their own mundane humanity and the confines society has prescribed them.
Some of my favorite aspects of this novel were the Friday night fires and The Hunt, the world-building, the powerful protagonist, and the LGBTQ+ themes and characters. The magical world built is intricate but not tedious. There are worlds within worlds, subcultures, and secrets. The sex scenes are so well done I found myself gripping my Kindle a bit more intensely.
I felt as though I was an invisible companion standing right next to the protagonist, Luli Wei (her acting name) throughout the book. Her power and ambition, curiosity and passion were tangible. I felt how bright her star was burning before we knew who/what she would become.
“You’d rather be proud than happy,” Tara said, squeezing my hand. When I looked slightly offended at her words, she reached up to tuck a stray lock of hair behind my ear. “It’s part of you. I don’t think you would fight it if you could.”
Luli wanted to ascend, to leave behind what was forced upon her and live a life of her own choice, no matter how fraught with danger. She forged loyal connections with people who had an unusual spark and natural talent and didn’t let fear stop her from confronting even the most powerful players. And when she did, she knew how to stay cool because letting someone know you’re on the run inside is as good as giving them your soul.
Both a sophisticated fantasy novel and intriguing LGBTQIA romance, Siren Queen is my favorite book of 2022 so far. I would definitely recommend this read to fans of the Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo, Sorrowland by Rivers Soloman, The Hazel Wood series by Melissa Albert, and The Magicians by Lev Grossman.
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Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative by Melissa Febos
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is my first time reading anything by Melissa Febos, and now I’ve vowed to become a Febos completist!
Body Work by Melissa Febos offers creative nonfiction essays about the vital importance of writing about trauma in a society that shames people into silence and the transformative internal work that goes along with reclaiming your story. We delve into how to write honestly about sex, how the process can make us more aware of the difference between internalized misogyny and our own truest desires, how to write about other people without destroying them or ourselves in the process, and some of the deeply spiritual aspects of writing.
While reading this book, I was also taking an online course in creative nonfiction. As a newbie, I felt frozen, staring at the blank page, questioning whether I could really write about trauma. I wanted to write about sex, queer sex, dissociation, growing up an unusually precocious and sensitive child, the pervasiveness of patriarchal oppression, and I needed to make it compelling and honest and to “excavate events for which I had been numb on the first go-around.” I saw myself in Febos, and seeing her thrive and heal and do so through writing gave me a framework to visualize what I want in my own creative life. Body Work found me at the exact moment I needed it most.
One of my favorite essays in Body Work is A Big Shitty Party: Six Parables of Writing About Other People. I feel relieved to have read this essay before publishing anything of note! Febos shared her own mistakes, regrets, and shifts in perspective with such insight that my own immaturity as a writer felt impossible to ignore. I had ideas for essays that had long been brewing that weren’t necessarily cruel nor untrue, but they could sting someone. Febos reminded me, “There are good essays that there are good reasons not to write,” but also, “…a difference in individual truths is not always a conflict. So long as we don’t try to speak for each other, there is room in our house for more than one story.”
I’m always looking for books that illuminate the experience of gifted children (a term that’s not always appealing, and yet we don’t have any other highly recognizable terms for intellectually advanced kids and adults), as these children tend to have difficulty seeing themselves reflected in the world. She describes her heightened perceptivity, openness to spiritual experience, early advanced reading and writing abilities:
“I wanted to be a writer very young because writer was the only role I could see myself occupying in society, the only one that might hold everything that I was: queer, overly emotional, burdensomely perceptive, reluctant to do any kind of work whose purpose was opaque to me, ravenous in ways that made me an outlier. It was an occupation that seemed to offer respite and relief, but also was connected to the sublime—it offered the gift of self-forgetting, a transcendence on the other side of which lay insight. I did not think to compare this with any description of religious experience, because I had not read any. Now, it seems obvious.”
My copy of Body Work is so laden with highlights, it’s impossible to pick out the most profound or exciting quotes. I felt magnetically drawn into the writing world of Febos with each essay. This book is like a course in itself, and I’m sure I’ll read it dozens of times over the next few years both to learn and measure my learning and just to hear the voice of someone who actually gets it…someone who has done the work, knows the work never ends, and sees transformation and art as necessary to one another.
I recommend this book to writers of all experience levels, and to anyone who has ever considered telling their own story through memoir. If you consider yourself an intersectional feminist, queer, contemplative, and literary, this book is a dreamscape of inspiration.
Thank you, NetGalley, for this ARC!
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