The Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

The Autobiography of Red

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Poetry, retelling

Medium: Paperback

Content warnings: Incest, molestation

Synopsis: In this beautiful retelling, Anne Carson recounts the tale of Geryon and Herakles.  Within the context of mythology, Herakles must prove himself, and obtain the red cow from Geryon’s island.  Upon arriving, he slaughtered sheep, Geryon’s dog, and Geryon himself.  Now, centuries later, Geryon is still red.  He still has his wings.  He meets Herakles in his teenage years.  And he falls in love with him.

Review:  I honestly can’t say whether I’ve read anything more beautiful before.  This is my second time reading The Autobiography of Red, and it is still just as stunning to read as my first time.  I don’t know how Anne Carson does it.  She exerts such skill and mastery of the English language that she may as well be a mythic being herself.

There are so many things going on within this book.  Firstly, please do read the introduction and interviews–they help contextualize the narrative, and immediately open your eyes to how Carson writes.

This book is a magical, fantastical book.  Geryon is a child just like any other.  But he’s red.  He has wings.  Do people notice this?  He seems to remember his myth, his past–the one where he’s killed by Herakles.  But this doesn’t deter him from falling in love with him.  He still sees the color red everywhere.  He has big questions.  Red questions.

Another reason why this book is so important to me is because a) it was highly recommended to me by my high school best friend, and b) it was the first LGBTQ novel I’d ever read.  So, naturally, this affected me, though I don’t think I knew it at the time I first read it.  And to be clear: this book isn’t about Geryon realizing he’s gay, or about his parents’ acceptance and approval.  It’s about the harsh truths of when you love someone, especially when you have a history.  I’m still astonished by how incredible this book was, and I’m very much so looking forward to reading the sequel.

It’s a beautiful piece of work that deserves to be shared with everybody, especially those who want to read red stories about red monsters on a red island.

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