Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Last Song of Orpheus by Robert Silverberg

I bought this book on a whim. I wasn’t familiar with Silverberg’s previous publications, merely the title appealed to me. It’s a bleak, dry telling of Orpheus’ life and one that didn’t leave me wanting an encore.

Orpheus is cursed to live a cyclical life. One in which he knows the outcome of events before they happen only because he has lived and been reborn into this life for all eternity. The repetition in Orpheus’ life is perhaps what gives way to repetition of his story telling.

There are certain phrases that Orpheus is compelled to use nearly every page. I can’t over emphasize how annoying this became. His character descriptions were no better. At the mention of Jason I could mentally add—before Orpheus would say it—that he was foolhardy and cautious. I could do this, because the printed word ‘Jason’ seemingly couldn’t appear without his signature adjectives.

If you’ve ever known someone who couldn’t tell a story face-to-face in a satisfying manner that entertained you for even mere seconds then you know what it’s like to read Orpheus’ tale. This is not a narrative in which you read what happens as events take place nor is it exactly a memoir. It’s as if Orpheus, the main character, manages to tell a second-hand account of his own life in the most detached manner possible. He tells of his love for Eurydice, his travels to Egypt, and his time on the Argo with Jason to recover the Golden Fleece, all in the most plodding, plaintive I-couldn’t-care-less tone of voice. Perhaps it’s due to his knowing what will happen in his life as he has lived it before but, it’s as though his entire life as a demigod is a chore.

There is not a lot of backbone to Orpheus, especially so considering he’s the son of Apollo. He marches straight into the Hell and demands the release of his love after her early death. As she dies a second time, lost to Orpheus forever, all the spirit in him is gone and he limps along in life nearly oblivious to the fact that he is, alive.

There was nothing in this short novel that I could say was bad or even poor, yet I never felt Orpheus was even remotely interested in his own life, so why should I be? The Last Song of Orpheus is short and ultimately satisfying yet it’s nothing I’ll be adding to my play list. What should have been a glowing, unique story (a myth that has survived for how many years?) is spoiled by an overly somber, melancholy to a fault, storyteller.

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