AFTER SAPPHO – Selby Wynn Schwartz

“Those were the stories we were given.  When we were children, we learned what happened to girls in fables: eaten, married, lost. Then came our bouts of classical education, imparting to us the fates of women in ancient literature: betrayed, raped, cast out, driven mad in tongueless grief.”

My Booker 2022 longlist reading journey is nearing its close (I only have Treacle Walker left after this!), and it’s been a lot of fun.  I may add the National Book Award longlist to my reading goals this year, but I’ll certainly be doing Booker again.  Book 12 of 13 for me was Selby Wynn Schwartz’s After Sappho (Galley Beggar Press 2022), a novel of moments and persons, a blend of fact and fiction, and political poetry. 

The fragmented seductions and brilliant glimpses into early feminists are a triumph, but the lens is solely Euro-centric and seemingly lacking.  I was initially very seduced by a lyrical history of women seeking control of their own lives, but it grew repetitive and lost its luster.  Much like many a woman lost Lina’s attention, so the novel lost mine.

Stylistically, the novel is intriguing.  The women it chronicles, weaving in and out of lives and faces with ease, are historically important.  The role of literature and fiction, and a women’s role within the literary world, are written into this work with a lot of passion and cheek, but also a lot of sarcasm and drollness.  This is a difficult review to write because I can’t quite put my finger on why it so quickly lost my interest having held me quickly captive.

Should you read this book?  I have no idea, and I can’t decide if I’d recommend it or not.

Booker Count: 12 of 13

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