Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse

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9780375401336: Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse
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In her first novel in verse, Anne Carson bridges the gap between classicism and the modern, poetry and prose, with a volcanic journey into the soul of a winged red monster named Geryon.

There is a strong mixture of whimsy and sadness in Geryon's story. He is tormented as a boy by his brother, escapes to a parallel world of photography, and falls in love with Herakles--a golden young man who leaves Geryon at the peak of infatuation. Geryon retreats ever further into the world created by his camera, until that glass house is suddenly and irrevocably shattered by Herakles' return. Running throughout is Geryon's fascination with his wings, the color red, and the fantastic accident of who he is.

Autobiography of Red is a deceptively simple narrative layered with currents of meaning, emotion, and the truth about what it's like to be red. It is a powerful and unsettling story that moves, disturbs, and delights.

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Review:

Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red is a novel in verse, the author's first. A classicist by profession as well as a poet, Carson has drawn on antiquity for her cast, updating the myth of Geryon and Herakles. In the original version, of course, Herakles killed the red-skinned, winged Geryon. In Carson's very contemporary retelling, he merely inspires, but does not return, the monster's passion. By choosing Geryon as her central character, Carson can bring up the questions of existence as if they hadn't been asked before. After all, the monster's instincts have not been numbed by civilization. Fires twist through him. We feel the pain of learning the most elementary things, and then the volcanic intensity that comes with that more advanced thing, love. Yet Carson doesn't so much tell the story of Geryon's love as mediate his very being through semiological surfaces: cafes, video stores, lipstick, a library where he shelves government documents with a "forlorn austerity, / tall and hushed in their ranges as veterans of a forgotten war." Carson seldom satisfies herself with an image of the world. Instead she atomizes the world, leaving it broken down, refracted, and glinting. At times her verbal pyrotechnics manage to render pure energy:

A little button at the end of each range activated the fluorescent track above it.
A yellowing 5 x 7 index card
Scotch-taped below each button said EXTINGUISH LIGHT WHEN NOT IN USE.
Geryon went flickering
through the ranges like a bit of mercury flipping the switches on and off.
The librarians thought him
a talented boy with a shadow side.
No novelist could have gotten away with that last line. Yet it's very much to the point: Carson's Geryon is, among other things, a camera freak who doesn't understand that an observer must inevitably alter the nature of the thing observed. Here is Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, cheek-by-jowl with the ancients! And indeed, Carson's achievement is to interweave the archaic and the modern so seamlessly that by the time we finish reading Autobiography of Red, the entire landscape looks inside out. --Mark Rudman

From the Back Cover:

"The most exciting poet writing in English today.... A rare

talent -- brilliant and full of wit,passionate and also deeply moving."

- Michael Ondaatje

"A novel in the shape of a poem, a classical story made contemporary--wry, poignant, beautiful and occasionally erotic. Carson writes like an angel--Her passions recall that incandescent chronicler of love Elisabeth Smart [and] Malcolm Lowry--This romantic fable is--a rare (red) bird among Canadian novels--A wonderful book of dense, glittering prose poetry that is both timely and timeless." - Katherine Govier, Time

"Amazing -- I haven't discovered any writing in years so marvelously disturbing." - Alice Munro

"Wildly imaginative and inventive--The first dozen pages will convince anyone--that Carson is an authentic and original talent."                 - Douglas Fetherling, The Ottawa Citizen

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780375701290: Autobiography of Red

Featured Edition

ISBN 10: 037570129X ISBN 13: 9780375701290
Publisher: Vintage, 1998
Softcover

9780224059732: Autobiography of Red (Cape Poetry)

Vintag..., 1999
Softcover

9780771018138: Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse

McClel..., 2016
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9780676972658: Autobiography of Red : A Novel in Verse

Knopf ..., 1999
Softcover

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