Sunday, 22 March 2009

Where Three Roads Meet by Salley Vickers

Another in the Canongate series of works inspired by myth (which gave us the marvellous Girl meets boy), this time addressing the story of Oedipus. Sigmund Freud is seriously ill with oral cancer and undergoing a series of painful operations, able to talk and eat only with the aid of a prosthesis called the Monster. In hospital and at his Hampstead home he is visited by Tiresias, who tells him the story from his perspective, from his first meeting with Oedipus at Delphi, to the end of his life. The book begins with Freud's own retelling of the story, then a short description of the diagnosis of his cancer, his move to London following the annexation of Austria by the Nazis, and his death. The remainder of the text is constructed entirely in dialogue between Tiresias and Freud, Tiresias revealing his identity slowly to the reader and to Freud. The result is a fascinating account of Tiresias's life, the stories of Oedipus and Jocasta, and of Freud's protracted final illness. Vickers has a certain amount of fun with Freud, at one point allowing him to recount a dream stuffed with phallic and Oedipal imagery, and letting Tiresias gently mock his atheism by pointing out Freud's superstiitious attachment to objects, and his affection for the goddess Athena. Vickers finds parallels like the relationship with Athena between the stories that construct the narrative, creating an intricate and expansive network of connections between mythical Greece and Europe in the 1930s. All of this adds up to a satisfyingly crunchy and thought-provoking book, that will definitely be added to the 'to be re-read' pile.

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