Sunday, November 30, 2008

Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital

Hospital is an Australian writer who now teaches at the University of South Carolina. She received the Patrick White Award for lifetime literary achievement. I met her at the American Library Association's annual summer convention in Anaheim, California.

Orpheus Lost is one of several “Post 9/11” fictional accounts surrounding or influenced by those events. Hospital has done an excellent job of capturing the mystery and the fear engendered by our government’s reaction to the attacks. The clandestine operations, kidnapping, torture, murder, and other horrific acts our country has perpetrated following 9/11 are all described in chilling detail.

The novel begins innocently enough with the meeting of two scholars in Boston who both study music. Leela from South Carolina, and Mishka Bartok from Sidney, Australia hit it off immediately. They seem destined for each other. The first section of the book detailing their meeting and growing relationship is musical, calm, and beautiful.

However, both have dark secrets, and the story quickly descends into a maelstrom of horror. The novel ends with a crescendo, but if the story has any flaws, the end happens too quickly. At 353 pages, another hundred pages could have easily detailed the resolutions. I wanted more of the story in the last 80 pages or so.

Hospital’s prose is absorbing and deceptively simple. She draws readers into the story with interesting, likable characters. What happens to them has happened to way too many people over the last eight years. We can only hope change is coming.

--Chiron, 11/30/08

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