Book review: Mythos by Stephen Fry

She see’s Pyramus’s sword. It is still hot and wet with his blood. She throws herself upon it, plunging it deep into her belly with a cry of triumph  and ectasy in one of the most Freudian suicides ever.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is pretty much the tone of the entire book. Fry takes us on a rivetting exploration of ancient Greek mythology from the beginning of creation, through every act of betrayal, castration, rape, kidnap, incest, hubris and torture right up until … well, I’m not really sure up until when: the tales are neatly packaged as standalone short stories, with a thread that ties them together; however, the timeline can seem a little bit jumbled at times, though that really didn’t stop me from enjoying the book.

Straight off the bat, it’s a fascinating read, even if Greek Mythology isn’t really you’re schtick. Clever use of dialogue and Fry’s legendary wordsmithing keep things light and the reader laughing, no matter who’s being kidnapped or castrated. I do know a bit about Greek Mythology, but I hadn’t realised how much of the words and phrases we use in every day language can be traced back to the stories told by the ancient Greeks. Tantalus, for example, the king cursed to spend eternity in a pool of water he couldn’t drink, below a branch of grapes he couldn’t reach to eat, gives us the word tantalise. As equally fascinating is the depth and richness these stories possess when you consider they’re simply being used to explain an every day phenomena, such as the changing of the seasons. Fry points out the connections to modern life and Shakespearean  literature throughout the book, directly in the prose in most cases, though he does overdoes the use of footnotes in my opinion. After a few hours, I just gave up on the notes as they tended to distract from the flow of the story. The inclusion of sizeable index at the back reinforces the notion that this is much less a story than a very readable text book. I guess this what they call Creative Non-Fiction – or is it? Not sure. Nevertheless, still well worth a read.

An unsurprising nine out of ten.

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