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review 2016-03-30 17:49
Flawed but interesting retelling of Oedipus
Jocasta: The Mother-Wife of Oedipus - Victoria Grossack;Alice Underwood

Jocasta falls just short of three stars for two reasons, which I’ll detail below.

First, a precis: The novel recasts the myth of Oedipus as told from the titular character’s point of view (hopefully, I shouldn’t have to recount the traditional version of the myth?). Though the authors have elected to largely abandon any supernatural elements, there’s the Tiresias (the prophetic mouthpiece of Apollo), who does seem to channel a divine will when she (he) utters her (his) dooms.[1]

The Tiresias prophesizes that fourteen-year-old Jocasta will be queen of Thebes and marry its most famous king. She is chosen for Alphenor, the heir-apparent to Thebes’ rulers Amphion and Niobe. But on the night of the betrothal, Niobe blasphemes, the Tiresias curses the family, and all but one of the royal children die. The next day, Amphion is torn apart by a mob, and Niobe goes mad. Jocasta and her family are at a loss, especially in light of the prophecy, but things soon appear to be looking up when Laius, a son of a former Theban king, returns from exile in Pelops’ city of Pisa (Olympia), claiming the throne and Jocasta. The night of the wedding things do go well. Jocasta falls in lust at the sight of Laius, and Laius reciprocates the feeling. But soon after the couple consummates the marriage the prophetess tells Laius that any son of his will kill him. The king attempts to repudiate Jocasta but he has no cause, and – of course – she’s already pregnant with Oedipus. Nine months later, the newborn is torn from Jocasta’s arms and Laius has it exposed, or believes that the man he sends to do it, has done it. The novel passes over the next twenty years quickly. Laius continues to send tribute to Pelops and, living in fear of conceiving a son, never touches Jocasta again. Though Laius proves a most inept king, Jocasta and her brother Creon rule the city, and make it prosperous despite the tribute.

The story picks up when Laius decides to consult the Delphic oracle. As in the traditional version, he meets an unrecognized Oedipus on the way to Delphi, there’s an altercation, and Oedipus kills him. Subsequently, Creon organizes a competition in Thebes to find a new husband for his sister: Whoever can answer the riddles of Melanthe, the Maenad high priestess, will become the next king of the city. Oedipus shows up to participate, and as with Laius, Jocasta is smitten at first sight. Because Oedipus is the supposed son of Corinth’s king and an alliance with that city would counter the power of Pelops, Creon conspires to ensure that the youth wins the contest.

Again, the next two decades are glossed: Jocasta and Oedipus rule an ever more fortunate Thebes, and they have four beautiful children: Antigone, Ismene, and the twins Eteocles and Polynikes. And then everything goes sour when Jocasta’s relationship with her husband comes out.

Why not three stars (or more)?

One reason is the writing. It’s just “meh” – competent but not particularly beautiful or elegant. And there are anachronisms that jar the reader out of the early Iron Age setting, making her wonder if a Mycenaean Greek would have actually said that.

I could have forgiven such clumsiness, however – as I have with other authors – if Jocasta had been a more compelling character, but she has no arc. The child of the first chapter is not all that different from the fifty-plus-year-old woman of the final chapter. Jocasta comes across as rather clueless and passive, particularly in the hands of her brother, whose personal ambitions, machinations and political acumen are what keep Thebes strong. I can accept that a fourteen-year-old girl, growing up insulated from the hurly-burly of politics, would be at sea when suddenly thrust onto center stage. But if I’m to continue to be interested in her at all, she has to show some maturation over the course of the twenty and forty years that the last two-thirds of the novel encompass. It’s difficult to see that in this version of Jocasta.

I was impressed by how the authors euhemerized the myth. It worked for me, though I’m still puzzled about the role of the Tiresias, the one ambiguously supernatural element. In the end, though, the book reads like a first or (at best) second draft. There’s a potentially interesting character in Jocasta, and you can see the glimmerings of potential in Cleon’s and Oedipus’ but they’re not drawn sufficiently well to make me recommend the book. On the other hand, if you like this genre (as I do), it may be just good enough to warrant a perusal.

[1] Tiresias is a title for the blinded person who speaks for Apollo. In the beginning, the post is held by an old woman. When she dies, her successor is Jocasta’s father, Menoeceus.

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review 2015-03-18 00:00
Windows the complete art of window treatment
Windows the complete art of window treat... Windows the complete art of window treatment - Jocasta Innes A bit dated but an interesting look at a variety of window treatment over the years.
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review 2014-04-17 17:47
Not bad
Jocasta: The Mother-Wife of Oedipus - Victoria Grossack;Alice Underwood


Disclaimer: For the sake of honesty, I picked up this book after one of the authors sent me an email.  She had noticed that I placed a later book in the series on my TBR shelf and recommended reading them in order.



                The concept behind this novel is interesting, and the writing is compelling.  Taking the story of Oedipus, Grossack and Underwood recast it though the lenses of Jocasta, adding more depth to a woman who was known solely for her relationships.

                The writing is good, and in particular, the inversions and solving of riddles of the story – such as the Sphinx, are great.  They get huge bonus points for the Sphinx twist.  It’s strange then, that the central character of Jocasta is one that needs more depth.  In some ways, she is just as unknowable in the novel as she is in the myth.  Part of this is because of her reaction when the truth about her second husband is revealed.  Quite frankly, shouldn’t there be some more internal conflict, and part of it is that I am never quite sure why the people seem to think that she is a good queen, other than the fact that she shows herself to the people.

                It isn’t a lack of skill on the part of the author, Jocasta’s brother Creon is a fascinating done character, but perhaps limits of the character herself.  It is this limit that makes the good, but not great.  I shouldn’t find myself wondering more about Niobe, say, than Jocasta.

                I will, however, be reading other books in this series.

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review 2013-07-21 20:58
In Your Own Write (Around the House)
In Your Own Write - Jocasta Innes,Jane Forster Interesting inspiration... taking calligraphy off the page and onto your house.
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review 2012-04-07 00:00
Jocasta: The Mother-Wife of Oedipus - Victoria Grossack;Alice Underwood I admit to being mostly unfamiliar with the Oedipus myth before I read this book. My knowledge was pretty much limited to "man kills father then marries his mother". I didn't know any of the details or nuances to the story. So I can't really say whether this is an accurate retelling or portrayal of the myth. I can only really discuss this story on its own, and in that light, it was good.

I had three major issues with this book (and incest wasn't one of them).

First, I didn't much care about Jocasta as a teen in the beginning of the book. I didn't dislike her, I just didn't care about her at all, which is in my opinion worse than dislike. She lived in ancient Greece, in a time where arranged marriages were common and expected, and yet her attitudes seemed out of place and far too modern. She rebels against a switch in her marriage plans after the first one becomes impossible, on the grounds that she's never even met the man she's now supposed to marry. So? Throughout history, women and girls have been married off to men (usually much older men) that they'd never met.

In a society where almost everything is at the will of the gods, and prophecy holds sway over all, why should one girl feel like she's being mistreated by her father handing her off to a different man to become her husband? Why should she expect anything else? This just seems like a more modern mindset than I would expect from a girl who lived then, as if she was expecting a marriage for love and respect instead of one arranged for power, alliances, or "the will of the gods".

Also, there was insta-love. Not a fan the insta-love. Probably this was due to the prophecy, which stated that she would love her husband and bear him lots of little Thebans, but it just felt like modern teen behavior to fall in love with the first attractive, powerful man to show her some attention.

Finally, the terms "my lady", "my lady queen", "my lord", and "my lord king" used throughout the book felt out of place to me. In a conversation with Victoria Grossack where I brought this up, she said, "[Regarding] Lord/Lady – Bronze Age Greece definitely had both nobles and kings/queens. We decided on these terms as the most accessible, giving the correct flavor without having readers stumble over unfamiliar terms such as wanix and spartoi."

While I can understand this decision, for me, it didn't work. Every time I would see "my lady queen" or the like, I would feel as if I was in England rather than Ancient Greece. Rather than helping immerse me in the world, they kick me right out of it. I'd personally rather "wanix" and "spartoi" be used if those were appropriate. As long as I'm given an explanation for an unfamiliar word, either outright or by context, then I'll acclimate to their use.

But those complaints aside, I did eventually begin to gel with the writing, and once Jocasta was out of her teens, I definitely began to like her more. There was a lot of political maneuvering and religious practices that give us an idea of what living back then might have been like. I liked how things were hinted at, and left interpretable.

I liked also how the more fantastic elements of the story, the prophecies and the Sphinx, were brought into the realm of the real world, and it was shown how these things could have really happened.

Overall, this was a good book. I would have liked a little more information pertaining to what happened after, but I thought that the ending was appropriate.

Two things to remember:
1) Never ask the Tiresias to dinner.
2) Thebes is fickle.
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