Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson

“Geryon was a monster everything about him was red. Geryon lived on an island in the Atlantic called the Red Place. Geryon’s mother was a river that runs to the sea the Red Joy River Geryon’s father was gold. Some say Geryon had six hands six feet some say wings. Geryon was red so were his strange red cattle. Herakles came one day killed Geryon got the cattle.”

My girlfriend is a classicist, and pressed this into my hands when I visited her last week. She, and others, have often spoken of Anne Carson, but I’ve never actually read anything of hers, or anything about her. This was an excellent introduction.

Opening as a critical text, Autobiography of Red is a novel in verse, of Geryon, winged red monster, lover of Herakles, photographer, teenage boy. It is based on surviving fragments by Stesichorus (who “came after Homer and before Gertrude Stein, a difficult period for a poet”), about Geryon, who was killed by Herakles as part of one of his Labours, but set in the present day, more or less, with the two meeting as teenage boys.

I need to read it again. I loved the rhythm (like that quote at the top), how sentences ran between lines, between speakers and descriptions and thoughts and words, how it made me feel (though how it did make me feel is difficult to articulate). I loved lines like

“A man moves through time. It means nothing except that, like a harpoon, once thrown he will arrive.”

“He had a respect for facts maybe this was one.”

“Don’t want to be free want to be with you. Beaten but alert Geryon organized all

his inside force to suppress this remark.”

When I finished it, I read this, on Anne Carson, and now I want to read everything she’s ever done, and everything about her, because she is so interesting. This week, I’m going to watch the Barbican’s recent production of Antigone, starring Juliette Binoche (available on iPlayer in the UK until 26th May 2015), translated by Anne Carson. After an early GCSE in Latin (I got an E, it wasn’t a good time), I’ve since been scared of classics in general, but I saw Medea and Electra last year, and I really enjoyed this, so maybe it’s time to get through the fear and try again.

Other categories that Autobiography of Red fits into: a book with non-human characters, A book by a female author, a book set in a different country, a book a friend recommended, a book with a love triangle, a book you can finish in a day, a book by an author you’ve never read before

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