This a short verse novel that takes on a few forms (and like it’s subject could maybe be said to have many faces?). It’s an autobiography of a poet, it’s a novel about a mythical being, and it’s form of mythopoesis that brings that myth into the modern world. It’s not always doing all three at once, and at times jumps back and forth among those different tasks.
We mostly are following Geryon, a three headed mythical creature who guards cattle in a far off land, and these cattle are one of Herakles’s twelve labours. So already, like in John Gardner’s Grendel, we are getting the story of a being whose sole purpose in the stories about him to provide meaning and shape to another heroic quest. It doesn’t work out the same way as in Grendel, but that same sense of purpose outside yourself does show up throughout this novel. The story takes us through ideas about language and object (the relationship between signifier and signified that is part of the way we talk about things, about idea, about people and it muses on the nature and purpose of adjectives in a way that’s reminiscent on the various books and articles about “the wine dark sea”). And in her discussion of the relationship between Herakles and Geryon, we take on the relationship between love object and lover, or pursuer and pursued in interesting ways.
I do like Anne Carson’s various works, and I do like this one as well, though I don’t think I am as enamored with it as so many other people.