To save Twitter from more of my grumblings about this awful book, I'm going to do a partial write up. My father bought Sappho's Leap
at the Lewes Library Book Sale and sent it to me. I've yet to have a chance to talk with him about it but my mother and Twitter and chat have heard my amazement.
Currently I'm about half way through the book and the best thing about it is its a fairly quick read just an awful one. The story is told in the first person by Sappho and so much of it is telling not showing and Sappho is weirdly passive even though she's doing things. Though she makes choices, it reads more as life just happens to her a lot. I think that's mainly the fault of the writing, but the story is bizarre.
Erica Jong seems to have done some research as there are points where it feels vaguely historical and then the Amazons want to make her their queen and I stare or Zeus and Aphrodite start making asides about her. Half way through the book, she's fallen in love with a poet, her slave who keeps saying things like but to truly know freedom you must know slavery, which good point but that's about what she says, and a soothsayer that we only know as the Priestess of Isis. She's also seduced a pharaoh, charmed Aesop, who's now on her side, written the Amazoniad and the Amazons want to make her their queen, she's also supposed to go down to the underworld at some point. The sex parts are pretty well written, kind of soft porn and some nice metaphors, but apparently that's what made Jong's name, writing about female pleasure.
I've also lost track of how many times she's been conveniently shipwrecked, which adds to how passive she seems. She just kind of ends up where she needs to be and doing what she needs to be doing. In Delphi, she needs money, she sees that the oracle is speaking in metaphor and interprets them and so have tons of money. There will be maybe a sentence or two of well people knew of my symposia on Syracuse and thus came to them in Egypt and I go, but the world doesn't work like that. Oh and she's part of a bet between Aphrodite and Zeus, so they'll pop up and have discussions about her love life and she'll comment on how some of her works are perceived later.
Now honestly a lot of this could be fun and interesting, but the writing is boring and it seems to take itself rather seriously, which leaves me confused. There's such a great premise in this book but it misses Sappho. The beauty to me of Sappho's work is how she captured the details of love and life, she doesn't need an epic tale to honor her just a true one. This isn't true, I don't know what this is.
The ancient world is hard to write about because their view of religion was different from ours and getting the right balance of myth and fact is hard, Jong fails at it. I want to tell her to go read Robert Graves, Mary Renault and Lindsey Davis who get it, Margaret Atwood as well. The Penelopiad
is an amazing book, one of my favorite takes on a myth.
Oh and the part that made me boggle today was while Sappho's working on the Amazoniad, she keeps complaining that she keeps hearing about too perfect Amazons and she can't work with that. I'm going to share quotes now, Sappho pointing out why this book doesn't work.( There be quotes here to save flists. )
Now to make up for all these horrible quotes, have Sappho at her finest.Evening
Children astray to their mothers, and goats to the herd,
Sheep to the shepherd, through twilight the wings of the bird,
All things that morning has scattered with fingers of gold,
All things thou bringest, O Evening! at last to the fold.
Translation from Poemhunter.com