One may often be disappointed or even dispirited by publishers' choices – by what they sometimes do publish or do not publish – but one must also admit, that these people too sometimes have brilliant ideas. Canongate for instance, an independent Scottish publisher of great quality (brings out, among others, Michel Faber's and Yann Martel's books), launched two years ago a magnificent, still ongoing literary project: The Myths series. I've been looking for the right occasion to tell you about this series for months and now I've found it: I've just finished one of the latest books in the series so here we go!

The Myths is an international project involving 39 publishers around the world and reknown authors from many countries. The principle of the project is that every author picks a myth he or she likes or is interested in and re-tells ist in his or her own way. While the first three volumes of the series were published simultaneously by all the 39 publishers, each of them has now established its own particuliar issuing order and frequency.

The books of this series are always a source of literary delight for me and I cannot stop marvelling at the variety of shapes that myths can take when recounted and somehow reinvented by contemporary writers. Myths do appeal to most people, no matter how they are told, because they are universal stories, but this rewriting renders them even more compelling and easier to relate to. Even the one opus I enjoyed least still managed to be interesting and thought-provoking.

Finally, these books are beautiful objects – at least in the export edition from Canongate that I always purchase. The cover design is very original and artistic, the text layout attractive and the paper – nice thick and mild white paper – and print quality both are great.
Here follows a short presentation of each title already published by Canongate:

A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong. 2005, 159 p.

First volume of the series. A non-fiction work explaining in a very clear and nice way what a myth is, what its function is, which types of myths there are and how they evolve through time. I enjoyed it very much and really should reread it someday.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood. 2005, 199 p.

In Homer's Odyssey, Penelope lives in her husband's, Odysseus, and her cousin's, Helen, shadow and only plays the part of the faithful wife awaiting her husband's return. Not so here, for Penelop herself is the narrator of the retelling of her story. And her maids, who get killed by Odysseus after he has finally found his way back home, assume the role of the choir, chanting their judgements alongside the main story. Atwood's approach to this myth is deliciously feministic and her words, both powerful and poetic, melt on the tongue, leaving there a bittersweet aftertaste of desillusion.

Weight by Jeanette Winterson. 2005, 151 p.

Winterson's retelling of the myth of Atlas and Heracles is a must read! Alongside Atwood's and Vickers' books I'd say that it is my favourite in this series by now. She manages to write intimistic but still universal prose, mixing together very personal and individual parts and general cultural and scientific references. Her prose as well as the pictures she evokes are overwhelming, which can be cruel and cute at the same time. Her book is imaginative and haunting and its ending scene one of the most beautiful I've ever read.

The Helmet of Horror by Victor Pelevin. Translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield. 2006, 274 p.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a book for literary-inclined geeks! Pelevin has indeed chosen to retell the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur in the form of an internet forum, creating a virtual maze and somehow a new literary form at the cross-section of novel and play – for it is only meant to be read, not to be enacted, but nonetheless doesn't have a narrator – and letting Ariadne create the discussion thread... Lots of nerdy subcultural references here and a very original and challenging read, which I did enjoy but I'm not sure everybody would.

Lion's Honey by David Grossman. Translated from the Hebrew by Stuart Schoffman. 2006, 155 p.

This one is tough and I coudln't enjoy it as much as the others. Don't get me wrong, it was definitely worth buying and reading, but as Grossman recounts and interprets the story of Samson – actually it is more of an essay than anything else – he quotes copiously from The Old Testament and I have big problems with The Bible in general and especially The Old Testament. The Bible is probably the only book I've ever read – in parts only, I will certainly never be able to read the whole of it – that manages to make me sick and to disgust me so strongly and so quickly (one page is all I need to feel bad). It is just so full of hatred and so commanding – I don't like being commanded by anyone and I make no exception in this case either – that I simply can't take it. That said, Lion's Honey is still very interesting and Grossman's analysis of Samson's myth and the parallel he sees between Samson and modern terrorists was extremely thought-provoking. All in all a good if somewhat different opus but flawed for me.

Dream Angus by Alexander McCall Smith. 2006, 173 p.

As the title already gives away, this book retells the myth of Angus, the Irish god of dreams and love. I wasn't familiar at all with this figure so it was a very nice initiation for me. Being a god who will let you see only glimpses of possibilities and thus giving you no real things, Angus is an unpredictable and somewhat unreliable figure. He is known to appear to people when they lower their guard and thus are more receptive – typically when half asleep – and to vanish as suddenly as he came. In McCall Smith's recounting of this story Angus and his influence appear in many forms and the very structure of the text itself, made of different episodes apparently not linked to each other, illustrates his inconstancy. Even if McCall Smith's style didn't appeal to me as much as Atwood's or Winterson's, it was still very nice to read.

Where Three Roads Meet by Salley Vickers. 2007, 197 p.

I've just finished reading this one and, believe me, it's one of the best in this series! Vickers, who has worked as a psychoanalyst, has chosen to rewrite the myth of Oedipus, appointing the seer Tiresias as her narrator and letting him tell his and Oedipus' story to Sigmund Freud himself! I am absolutely no fan of psychoanalysis but this setting is a brilliant idea. Although you know what's going to happen from the start – Freud, extremely weakened and diminished by cancer and terribly afraid of death, will die in the end and Oedipus will kill his father and sleep with his mother no matter what they do to try to prevent it – Vickers manages to write a thrilling story. Her language is subtle and delicate and she spreads hints of humour every now and then, lightening this tragic tale with a playful approach of Freud's methods and obsessions – Tiresias simply rocks as Freud's last patient! Philip Pullman said about Salley Vickers that „She's a presence worth cherishing in the ranks of modern novelists“ (quoted from the bookcover). I couldn't agree more ;-).

Binu and The Great Wall by Su Tong. Translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt. 2007, 291 p.

Still to be read by your favourite book-nymph ;-).

Girl meets Boy by Ali Smith. 2007, 164 p.

Soon to be read too. Retells the myth of Iphis.

En France la série des Mythes est publiée chez Flammarion. Titres parus à ce jour: Karen Armstrong Une brève histoire des mythes, Margaret Atwood L'odyssée de Pénélope et Viktor Pelevine

In Deutschland erscheint die Mythenreihe beim Berlin Verlag (gebundene Ausgabe) und dtv (Taschenbücher). Schon erhältlich sind: Karen Armstrong Eine kurze Geschichte des Mythos, Margaret Atwood Die Penelopiade, Jeanette Winterson Die Last der Welt, Viktor Pelewin Der Schreckenshelm, David Grossman Löwenhonig, Alexander McCall Smith Der Gott der Träume, Ali Smith Girl meets boy, Su Tong Die Tränenfrau, Olga Tokarczuk AnnaIn in den Katakomben und Drago Jancar Der Wandler der Welt.

I Sverige publiceras Mytserien av Albert Bonniers förlagen. Följande titlar finns redan: Karen Armstrong Myternas historia, Margaret Atwood Penelopiaden, Jeanette Winterson Tyngd, David Grossman Lejonhonung, Alexander McCall Smith Drömguden och Klas Östergren Orkanpartyt.

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