I always worry slightly when a book claims to be a ‘modern spin’ on an ancient myth. Can it work? Of course. You just need to look at Ali Smith’s Girl Meets Boy to see that. But the concern when a book makes that claim is that the writer will rely so heavily on people linking the old story to their own, newer, one that they might forget to do the things they need to make their own work of fiction fly. Smith doesn’t do that. She uses elements of a myth to meld a new, modern story that has as much to say about the present as it does the past.
Despite the concerns I have around this, though, The Helios Disaster looked to have enough in it to interest me. It’s about a young girl who is put into the foster system after appearing in her dad’s home without any warning. It’s about mental health. And it’s about how systems cast you aside and castigate you because of the things that make you different to others.
Or, at least, I think that’s what it’s about.
It was hard to tell.
Because for me, at least, Knausgard did not manage to avoid the pitfalls of reimagining a myth in the same way that Smith did. This book seems to depend on prior knowledge. And if I’m being honest, I have very little knowledge of the myth of Athena – even after doing a comprehensive search on the internet. This does not seem to be a hugely well-known story. And that fact makes it a problem that, throughout The Helios Disaster, there seems to be something being unsaid. An unclear element driving the narrative forward.
Any Cop?: I had all kinds of problems with this book, if I’m being honest. I didn’t always know what was going on. I found the prose stilted. Many of the characters felt undefined and difficult to tell apart. And I never quite got the emotional connection to the protagonist that would be needed to make the story work. But hey, who knows, maybe it’s just not for me? I’ve been wrong before.