Venue: White Swan Leeds
Canongate Books, together with thirty great international publishing houses, is proud to announce a new series – “The Myths”.
In ancient Greek mythology Atlas, a member of the original race of gods called Titans, leads a rebellion against the new deities, the Olympians. For this he incurs divine wrath: the victorious Olympians force Atlas, guardian of the Garden of Hesperides and its golden apples of life, to bear the weight of the earth
and the heavens for eternity.
When the hero Heracles, as one of his famous twelve labours, is tasked with stealing these apples, he seeks out Atlas, offering to shoulder the world temporarily if the Titan will bring him the fruit. Knowing that Heracles is the only person with the strength to take this burden, and enticed by the prospect of even a short-lived freedom, Atlas agrees and an uneasy partnership is born.
With her typical wit and verve, Jeanette Winterson brings Atlas into the twenty-first century. Simultaneously, she asks her own difficult questions about the nature of choice and coercion, and how we forge our own destiny, Visionary and inventive, yet completely believable and relevant to our lives today, Winterson’s skill in turning the familiar on its head and showing us a different truth is once more put to dazzling effect.
JEANETTE WINTERSON’S first novel, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit won the Whitbread prize for Best First Novel. Since then she has published seven other novels, including The Passion, Written on the Body and The Powerbook, a collection of short stories, The World and Other Place: A Book of Essays, Art Objects and most recently a children’s picture book, The King of Capri. She has adapted her work for TV, film and stage. Her books are published in 32 countries. She lives in Oxfordshire and London.
Thanks so much!
This is also one of the Canongate Challenge books, so is structured more like one of those write ups.
FOREWORD TO WEIGHT
“When I was asked to choose a myth to write about, I realized I had chosen already. The story of Atlas holding up the world was in my mind before the telephone call had ended. If the call had not come, perhaps I would never have written the story, but when the call did come, that story was waiting to be written. Rewritten. The recurring language motif of Weight is ‘I want to tell the story again.’ My work is full of cover versions. I like to take stories we think we know and record them differently. In the retelling comes a new emphasis or bias, and the new arrangement of the key elements demands that fresh material be injected into the existing text. Weight moves far away from the simple story of Atlas’s punishment and his temporary relief when Heracles takes the world off his shoulders. I wanted to explore loneliness, isolation, responsibility, burden, and freedom, too, because my version has a very particular end not found elsewhere.”
Jeanette Winterson is one of those writers you either love or hate. Best known for her novel Oranges are not the only fruit, she takes a well known myth and creates a story about life’s journey, betrayal, greed, freedom, responsibilities, rejection and our search for our own identities.
We started this discussion while munching on some fabulous homemade mint brownies made by regular bookclubber Kirsty aka @kayelle5, (recipe should be on LBC website shortly) and one of the first things to be brought up was the fact this book, although beautifully written, is split in to thirds which didn’t sit well with the story although almost everyone agreed the favourite part of the story was the introduction of the space dog, Laika.
As mentioned below the story is a retelling of the famous Greek myth Atlas and Heracles (also known as Hercules in Rome and the modern west). As punishment for going against Zeus, Atlas is
forced to carry the weight of the world on his back. As stated in the book the two characters are very different we have Atlas who is a powerful man who doesn’t notice much. He doesn’t need to. Other people notice things for him’ and then there’s Heracles ‘His strength covers up his weaknesses, as he was born with rocks for muscles and rocks between his ears’. Two totally different characters yet in a way the same.
As humans we all want to be the best, to be important, to strive for power, and sometimes will do anything to get it. In this story Heracles is on a task and requires the Golden Apples of Hesperides which only Atlas can collect with no harm coming to him.
So Hercules offers to take Atlas’s burden for a short while to get what he requires. On Atlas’s return Heracles realises he is not going to take by his burden and so tricks him by saying that he needs to adjust his cloak. Atlas is then left once again holding up the world. Heracles then goes off on his adventures, finds ‘love’ and gets killed. It then jumps to many years later and Atlas isn’t aware of time or the Gods demise and then the story jumps forward to 1957 and Laika, the dog who was blasted into space by the Russians as a prelude to manned space flight. This piece was for everyone the most beautiful part of the story and how Atlas rescued her and in a way she rescued him when he finally realised he could be freed of his burden, because the reason he was carrying it didn’t exist anymore.This comes from two quotes in the book ‘No hero can be destroyed by the world. His reward is to destroy himself. Not what you meet on the way, but what you are will destroy you.’
In the end Heracles destroyed himself due to greed, Atlas came close but realised that he didn’t need to carry his burden anymore because the people who expected him to carry it were not there anymore and it is only when we realise what is expected from others and ourselves can we then let go of our worries and we can free ourselves.
The unfortunate thing about this book that we discussed that no one seemed to like was the sudden interruption of the auto-biography piece about Jeannette being given away. It didn’t seem to fit and distracted from the main story. Nor did the short piece on Hera being a sexualised object for Heracles, for me almost turning into Fifty Shades of Gray and blushing. Along with the need for Heracles’ wife to do an infidelity spell. And I quote ‘Had She not read Harry Potter? These things don’t end well?’
One thing from this book was to understand the stories created from these myths and try to get an idea about it’s characters, (perhaps we should have read up on them first) to know our heroes, that superheroes and Gods are only powerful because of the belief/ideas we put into and to know that actually Thor ‘god of war’ is ‘Kim’ from Home and Away who used to date a teacher. Oh and his friend Vinnie became a vampire in True Blood – obviously needed to change the day job.
Obviously in any book all the characters have different personalities, but all are alike in a way because they want the same thing. We didn’t like Hera we thought she came across as a bad character, but is perhaps hard done by.
Then there’s Atlas who went against his father and then coming to realise after being punished and shouldering the world, listening to all what was going on with the world that he didn’t want to be a part of that was able to release his ‘burden’.
And then there’s Heracles who through pure greed and desire for being a typical bloke gets himself killed. Silly begger.
To sum up this book is about life, lesson and the burdens we carry, and how we are a ‘self pollutant’ and it is only ourselves that can realise that we have the power to know when to let go of these things we carry around us. We are always searching for more, for better, we take ourselves too seriously and we don’t realise what we have is actually good enough and can make us happy until it’s too late.
Note for Readers – Story of Atlas – Myth Encyclopedia
In Greek mythology, Atlas was usually responsible for holding up the heavens. This marble relief from a Greek temple shows Hercules holding up the world for Atlas so that Atlas can bring him the golden apples of the Hesperides.
Another story concerns Hercules (Heracles)!, the grandson of Perseus. One of the labors of Hercules was to obtain some of the golden apples that were guarded by the Hesperides. Hercules asked Atlas to help him get the apples. Seeing an opportunity to escape from the burden of holding up the heavens, Atlas asked Hercules to take over the task while he obtained the apples. Hercules agreed. When Atlas returned with the apples, he told Hercules that he would deliver them for him. His intention was to leave Hercules to support the heavens. However, Hercules asked Atlas to take back the heavens for just a moment so that he could adjust his burden. When Atlas did this, Hercules walked away with the apples.
If this book were a cake…