Monday, September 08, 2008

Gilgamesh discussion: Gilgamesh by Joan London

I waffled on whether or not to have a separate post on Gilgamesh: A Novel by Joan London and finally decided to do so. I happened to stumble across this book at my local library when I was checking out the epic and thought I would give it a try. Unfortunately I never really connected with it...I'm not sure if it was the book or me. Or maybe my expectations were too elevated based on the summaries I read.

From the dustjacket:
Edith and Frances, living with their mother on a tiny farm in the south-west of Australia, are visited by their cousin Leopold and his Armenian friend Aram. The two young men are taking the long way home after working on an archaeological dig in Iraq. It is 1937. The modern world, they say, is waiting to erupt. Among the tales they tell is the story of Gilgamesh, the legendary king of Uruk in ancient Mesopotamia. Gilgamesh's great journey of mourning after the death of his friend Enkidu, and his search for the secret of eternal life, is to resonate through all their lives. ...

Moving between rural Australia, London, the Caucasus and the Middle East, from the last days of the First World War to the years following the Second, Joan London's stunning novel examines what happens when we strike out into the world, and how, like Gilgamesh, we find our way home.

The tie-ins to Gilgamesh felt superficial most of the time. The emphasis of the novel seemed to be on journeys, which to me was not a central focus in the epic. Yes, there is the travel to the Cedar Forest, but it is to rid the world of evil and achieve glory. Gilgamesh does travel to the edge of the world in order to find "the secret of eternal life", only to be disappointed. In his disappointment he realizes that he should cherish life and the things he does have. The novel does tie in to this latter theme, but not to the depth that is advertised. There are some parallels with deep friendship and the resulting "completion," but the novel didn't really spend much time on this either. I don't want to be too negative on the novel since it is generally well written and obviously has won awards. I guess my main disappointment (aside from not caring too much about the characters) comes from realizing the advertised central tie-in with the epic felt (to me) esoteric and strained.

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