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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles

Winterson, Jeannette. Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles. The book begins in a very heavy manner with the weight of the world--the physical world of sedimentary rock and fossilised remains, with layer after layer of strata that is twisted and folded to form this earth.

The slow and scientific build-up eventually leads to Poseidon and Earth, the parents of Atlas, and their courtship is told in a lovely metaphoric manner. (Words that echo throughout this re-telling: boundaries, nothing, infinite space, and "I want to tell the story again.")

Atlas joined the Titons in their war against the gods and lost. His punishment: the weight of the world.

Now that the background is established, enter Heracles, a rowdy, raucous, rapacious character. Heracles moves the somber and the serious to farce.

His first words: "Have a drink Atlas, you old globe. We've all got our burdens to bear. Your punishment is to hold up the universe. My punishment is to work for a wanker."

A trickster and a clown, Heracles (and his relationship with his step-mother Hera) is one of the highlights of Winterson's version of the myth. The contrast between Heracles and Atlas entertains, but makes you think.

I really don't know how to explain this re-telling because it circles back on itself. Again and again.

Winterson says, "What can I tell you about the choices we make?" and "I want to tell the story again." And she does. She does.

(I love the end)

Fiction. Myth. 151 pages. 2005.


  1. This series was a great idea by Canongate. I haven't read Weight yet- I need to catch up. The David Grossman entry is out as well, with more coming..

  2. Jeanette Winterson. I have absolute trust that her prose will be beautiful.

    I keep telling myself I need to pick it up and read it - but never found the time.


  3. Brad - My next one will be Dream Angus, I think. I've rooted through my own bookshelves and dragged The Golden Bough and 3 Joseph Campbell books out for some specific re-reading, but I'm adding Karen Armstrong's A Short History of Myth to my wishlist.

    Orpheus - It's unusual, especially in the changes of pace, but I really like it.

  4. Most of the stories that have stuck with me over the years have folklore and mythology at their foundation. The subject, whether in fiction or nonfiction, interests me immensely. This sounds like a fascinating book.