Have you a read a book where the words, the soul of it, the understanding, just completely resonated with you, and yet continually challenged your thinking? How about a book, despite the fact that the narrative isn’t a free flowing, easy-on-the brain journey, yet keeps you engrossed and reading way past your bedtime. Or perhaps even a book that leaves you speechless, but yet leaves you wanting to get up on the roof and sing its praises. Yeah… Those books are very rare indeed. I am one of the lucky ones that have found a book that embodies all of the above experiences. Carthage, the latest novel from Joyce Carol Oates, exceeded anything that I could have imagined.
Now, I am Oates virgin. I of course had hear of her, but had never read any of her books. Oates was one of those authors that I put into the “I must read something of theirs one day”. When Carthage was released, I finally bit the bullet. I wasn’t too sure what to expect; Oates is an extremely successful author and there was definitely an air of apprehensive mystery around her – in my opinion. When I finally got my copy in the post, I was so excited and instantly began to read, or more accurately, devour.
Those that are knowledgeable in Ancient Greek history, will recognize that Carthage is the name of an ancient civilization, way back in the day. So instantly, you have this connotation of potential tragedy brewing. This of course, is before we even get to the names of some of the characters! Zeno (a Greek philosopher who was known for his paradoxes) and his daughters, Cressida and Juliet (the main protagonists from Shakespeare’s tragedies Troilus and Cressida and Romeo and Juliet, respectively). Now, I’ve seen other authors try and replicate their novels after tragic plays etc…, but Oates does it so subtly, yet delivers such a punch, that it doesn’t feel like a parody at all. You feel the tragedy and the irony in such a profound way and indeed in such a contemporary fashion.
The plot focuses on the search for Cressida who has gone missing. The blame is soon put onto Juliet’s ex-boyfriend, Brett, an injured soldier, recently returned from Iraq. A fairly simple plot one may assume. Well, yes, it is. However, what makes it so complicated, and yet so fascinating, is the peppering of differing perspectives, and “truths” that Oates spreads throughout. Where one character has a deep perspective on events, another character sees it in a completely different light; the reader is teased and led down the proverbial garden path, on more than occasion.
I really can’t say much else in case I inadvertently spoil it for someone, so all I’ll say is that you should go out and read, no scrap that, EXPERIENCE, this tour de force of a novel. After reading this, I am going to have to buy some other novels by Oates. Any suggestions, dear readers?
Well, I am going to go and sit in a book slump…..