No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Saturday, December 05, 2015

2015/27-29: Soldier in the Mist / Soldier of Arete / Soldier of Sidon -- Gene Wolfe

"I have scanned the stars for you,” he said, “and they speak of wars and long and hazardous journeys. For years you will walk in a circle, following the path left by your own feet.”[Soldier of Sidon, loc. 3666]

The urge to reread these novels was inspired by Ben Wishaw as Dionysus in Bakkhai at the Almeida ... Sadly, at that point, most of my books were in boxes. I acquired Arete and Sidon as ebooks: Soldier in the Mist is, sadly, unavailable in ebook format, which is a shame, because it's the kind of book I'd like to search.

The first in the sequence, Soldier in the Mist, is still my favourite. The setting is ancient Greece, at the time of the Persian Invasion (~480BC). Latro has suffered a head injury and wakes each day with no memory of the day before. He has been advised to write down everything that happens to him. This journal is the substance of the novels.

Latro's amnesia confers the ability to see, and communicate with, supernatural beings: gods, nymphs, ghosts, et cetera. In Soldier in the Mist and Soldier of Arete, he travels around Greece in search of his own identity -- a picaresque in which he encounters slaves, slavers, pirates, bawds and priests; assumes a variety of roles; and encounters a great many intriguing characters. There's a resolution of sorts at the end of each novel. In Soldier of Sidon he travels to Egypt and up the Nile, in search of goldmines and -- perhaps -- healing. Old friends reappear (not that Latro can remember them in any intellectual sense) and new enigmas (a waxen woman, a monkey that nobody else can see, a panther) complicate Latro's life.

My earlier review of Soldier of Sidon is here. I find myself disagreeing with my younger self, not least because I think I expected a fourth volume which would tie together the threads and themes of Soldier of Sidon: no fourth volume has appeared and it now seems very unlikely that it ever will. Rereading the novel, it feels inconclusive, somewhat repetitive, unfinished. That circular journey mentioned in the quote above? It needs an end.

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