Many thanks to Anne for inviting me to take part in the blog tour for Orfeia by Joanne Harris. I not only have a review for you but a wonderful guest post which the author has written for you to enjoy. My thanks also go out to Gollancz for providing a copy of the beautiful hardback – I highly suggest you pick it up in this format if you are thinking of buying it!
Without further ado, lets jump in!
About the book
The stunning new novella from No 1 bestselling author Joanne Harris: Orfeia is a gender-flipped retelling of the Orpheus Myth,beautifully illustrated by Bonnie Helen Hawkins
When you can find me an acre of land,
Every sage grows merry in time,
Between the ocean and the sand
Then will you be united again.
So begins a beautiful and tragic quest as a heartbroken mother sets out to save her lost daughter, through the realms of the real, of dream, and even into the underworld itself.
But determination alone is not enough. For to save something precious, she must give up something precious, be it a song, a memory, or her freedom itself . .
Orfeia is a very different book to what I would normally read (I also haven’t read much about the original myth that is the basis for this book), but something about the book description really appealed to me, so when I was offered a review copy I jumped at it.
The story starts off with bereaved mother Fay Orr wandering around in a haze. Life has not been the same for her since the loss of her daughter – although it is arguable that she has not been the same since the death of said daughter’s father.
Fay Orr is traveling through London in a dream like state before bumping into some strange characters. They laugh, they drink…. they smoke “stuff” and suddenly London flips, Fay Orr thinks she sees her daughter and she arrives in Other London. (If you’ve seen Stranger Things you might get some “The Upsidedown” vibes….don’t worry, no Demogorgon here).
What follows is a journey through the world of fantasy and myth that I was completely sucked in by. Whenever I lifted my head from the pages I felt like I was coming up for air – it is quite a breathtaking work of fiction.
The characters are brilliant throughout – and while we know all along who Fay Orr really is, the intentions of the other characters are less transparent. Fay Orr wants to find a way to save her daughter from this magical realm, but can she trust those around her? Time will only tell.
I obviously cannot finish without passing comment on the fantastic artwork by Bonnie Helen Hawkins. The illustrations add an extra dimension to the story and really do the author’s words justice. They really are a thing of beauty.
Overall, an immersive and quick read. I am very glad that I got the chance to read this. I thought it was fantastic. Highly recommended.
A word from the author
Folklore and literature.
I once did an interview on stage with a writer of literary fiction, who asked me in all seriousness, in front of an audience of 600 people, why I chose to dabble in fantasy when I had written serious books. I tell this story regularly (especially at fantasy conventions, where it always gets big laughs) to illustrate the deep divide that still exists between the world of literary fiction (salons, festivals, prizes) and that of genre (cosplay, dragons), and the terrible ignorance of those who really ought to know better.
Every year, the fantasy world rolls its eyes as a (seasoned, white, male) novelist better known for literary work “discovers” the existence of fantasy. This novelist will then proceed to speak at literary salons and festivals, earnestly telling the public that their novel is really not fantasy, despite featuring sleeping giants, talking animals or goddesses in human form. They may mention the term “magic realism”. They will almost certainly claim that their work is a metaphor for Life, as opposed to those lesser books, written merely to entertain.
But here’s the thing. Fantasy is the earliest, most universal kind of literature. Our culture is rich with folklore and myth; together they form the backbone of our artistic inheritance. Beowulf is fantasy: Gilgamesh is fantasy; the Book of Revelation is filled with the tropes of fantasy fiction. We cannot ignore the way in which folklore, fairytale and fantasy have shaped our literary traditions: from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the ghost of Catherine Earnshaw at the window in Wuthering Heights, our literature is filled with more or less obvious references to stories we learnt in childhood.
But although we now think of fairy tales as being written for children, historically, they were anything but. Grimm’s fairy tales; La Fontaine’s fables; Child’s Ballads; the Mabinogion; all these were written for adults, and contai dark and challenging themes. Fantasy has never been about escaping the real world: it’s about making sense of a dangerous and irrational reality. Behind the tropes of fantasy are the things that have always mattered most; the fear of death; the hope for change; the belief that love can save us; the knowledge that monsters can be overcome, and that good can overcome evil. In a pre-Freudian world, the fairytale is the secret vocabulary of the subconscious; allowing people to speak in code about things that are otherwise taboo. And far from being childish or whimsical, folklore has always been filled with violence; cruelty; abuse.
But unlike Life, stories give those things a sense of order. In folklore and fairytale, justice triumphs; evil is punished; the monster is slain. Without this desire to impose order on a chaotic world, to shape the narrative as the storyteller sees fit, we would have no literature. And behind every literary masterwork lurks a fairytale in disguise: a rags-to-riches Cinderella behind Oliver Twist; a Bluebeard hidden behind Jane Eyre. The Hero’s Journey is Gilgamesh, but it is also James Joyce’s Ulysses. Folklore and fairytales are the lens through which we examine our world; which is why I chose to rework the Orpheus myth as a metaphor for grief. Fay’s journey to the Land of Death runs parallel to the stages of grief: first, denial; anger; bargaining; despair; and finally, acceptance. And because this is a fairytale, there’s another stage, which is a kind of magical redemption; the hope that monsters – even Death – can sometimes be overcome.
About the author
Joanne Harrisis an Anglo-French writer, whose books include fourteen novels, two cook books and many short stories. Her work is extremely diverse, covering aspects of magic realism, suspense, historical fiction, mythology and fantasy. In 2000, her 1999 novel CHOCOLAT was adapted to the screen, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp.
CHOCOLAT has sold over a million copies in the UK alone and was a global bestseller. She is an Honorary Fellow of St Catherine’s College, Cambridge, and in 2013 was awarded an MBE by the Queen. Her hobbies are listed in Who’s Whoas ‘mooching, lounging, strutting, strumming, priest-baiting and quiet subversion’. She plays bass guitar in a band first formed when she was 16 and runs the musical storytelling show Storytime. Joanne lives with her husband in Yorkshire, about 15 miles from the place she was born. Find out more at www.joanne-harris.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @Joannechocolat