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Bright Air Black

By David Vann

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Format: Paperback, 288 pages
Published In: United States, 01 March 2017
"A writer to read and reread."--The Economist Following the success of Aquarium which was a New York Times Editor's Choice and garnered numerous rave reviews, David Vann transports us to 13th century B.C. to give a nuanced and electric portrait of the life of one of ancient mythology's most fascinating and notorious women, Medea. In brilliant poetic prose Bright Air Black brings us aboard the ship Argo for its epic return journey across the Black Sea from Persia's Colchis--where Medea flees her home and father with Jason, the Argonauts, and the Golden Fleece. Vann's reimagining of this ancient tale offers a thrilling, realist alternative to the long held notions of Medea as monster or sorceress. We witness with dramatic urgency Medea's humanity, her Bronze Age roots and position in Greek society, her love affair with Jason, and her tragic demise. Atmospheric and spellbinding, Bright Air Black is an indispensable, fresh and provocative take on one of our earliest texts and the most intimate and corporal version of Medea's story ever told.

About the Author

Published in 20 languages, David Vann's internationally-bestselling books have won 15 prizes, including best foreign novel in France and Spain, and appeared on 75 Best Books of the Year lists in a dozen countries. A former Guggenheim fellow, he is currently a Professor at the University of Warwick in England and Honorary Professor at the University of Franche-Comte in France.

Reviews

Praise for Bright Air Black"In Bright Air Black, Vann captures all of the fascinating dark and magical elements of classic Greek mythology that have made it endure across time and cultures, but challenges us to empathize with Medea, to see her humanity despite the actions that will label her as a monster."--Zyzzyva "Vann writes in an elliptical, often impressionistic style . . . creating an unfamiliarity that effectively suggests distance, as if the language of this far-off world is not yet fully formed. It's an effect that is countered by the dialogue, which is jarringly contemporary . . . Perhaps the point is to remind us how little separates us from these characters 25 centuries old, but the modern idiom sits oddly with the careful, mesmeric poetry of the narrative. Where Vann succeeds is in creating a Medea who, at the climax of her tragedy, feels convincing and sympathetic. Far from a monster who sacrifices her sons for spite, he shows her as a fierce woman who, faced with losing everything, will not surrender control when it matters most . . . Bright Air Black is a compelling study of human nature stripped to its most elemental, and a vivid addition to the many interpretations of this character, whose complexity shows no sign of losing its allure." --Guardian (UK) "Sympathy for Medea builds as Vann shows us the world she inhabits . . . His Medea is a victim and a survivor. The time and the place may be very different from his previous novels, but Bright Air Black shares the same central structure of a searing family drama set against a backdrop of untamed nature . . . At the heart of this ambitious, dazzling, disturbing and memorable novel lies the uneasy juxtaposing of the wild and the civilised, and the complex, shifting relationship between the two." --Financial Times (UK) "While Vann takes few risks with the myth itself, his genius lies in his ability to blow away all the elegance and toga-clad politeness that have grown like a crust around our idea of ancient Greece and to reveal the bare bones of the Archaic period in all their bloody, reeking nastiness. There is no magic. There are no gods." --Times (UK)"Vann gives us a fresh slant on an early myth, an up-close and in-depth character study. From the outset, his drama unfolds in prose that is both atmospheric and electrifying . . . [A] stunning depiction of one of mythology's most complex characters . . . Its dark energy shocks us and shakes us, yet it is impossible to pull away." --The Australian "Incorporating both mesmerizing sentences and concentrated fragments . . . Sensual and violent, often simultaneously, Vann's novel evokes the primal force of women's power." --Booklist "Vann peels back the layers of myth to depict the ruthless realities of Bronze Age existence. Medea is depicted as a protofeminist antiheroine who must rely on her wits to survive in a world of hostile and brutish men who will betray her . . . Insightful and poetic, dark and atmospheric." --Library Journal Praise for Bright Air Black "Vann writes in an elliptical, often impressionistic style . . . creating an unfamiliarity that effectively suggests distance, as if the language of this far-off world is not yet fully formed. It's an effect that is countered by the dialogue, which is jarringly contemporary . . . Perhaps the point is to remind us how little separates us from these characters 25 centuries old, but the modern idiom sits oddly with the careful, mesmeric poetry of the narrative. Where Vann succeeds is in creating a Medea who, at the climax of her tragedy, feels convincing and sympathetic. Far from a monster who sacrifices her sons for spite, he shows her as a fierce woman who, faced with losing everything, will not surrender control when it matters most . . . Bright Air Black is a compelling study of human nature stripped to its most elemental, and a vivid addition to the many interpretations of this character, whose complexity shows no sign of losing its allure." --Guardian (UK) "Sympathy for Medea builds as Vann shows us the world she inhabits . . . His Medea is a victim and a survivor. The time and the place may be very different from his previous novels, but Bright Air Black shares the same central structure of a searing family drama set against a backdrop of untamed nature . . . At the heart of this ambitious, dazzling, disturbing and memorable novel lies the uneasy juxtaposing of the wild and the civilised, and the complex, shifting relationship between the two." --Financial Times (UK) "While Vann takes few risks with the myth itself, his genius lies in his ability to blow away all the elegance and toga-clad politeness that have grown like a crust around our idea of ancient Greece and to reveal the bare bones of the Archaic period in all their bloody, reeking nastiness. There is no magic. There are no gods." --Times (UK) "Vann gives us a fresh slant on an early myth, an up-close and in-depth character study. From the outset, his drama unfolds in prose that is both atmospheric and electrifying . . . [A] stunning depiction of one of mythology's most complex characters . . . Its dark energy shocks us and shakes us, yet it is impossible to pull away." --The Australian "Incorporating both mesmerizing sentences and concentrated fragments . . . Sensual and violent, often simultaneously, Vann's novel evokes the primal force of women's power." --Booklist "Vann peels back the layers of myth to depict the ruthless realities of Bronze Age existence. Medea is depicted as a protofeminist antiheroine who must rely on her wits to survive in a world of hostile and brutish men who will betray her . . . Insightful and poetic, dark and atmospheric." --Library Journal Praise for Bright Air Black "Vann writes in an elliptical, often impressionistic style, in brief sentences stripped of definite articles and the verb "to be," creating an unfamiliarity that effectively suggests distance, as if the language of this far-off world is not yet fully formed. It's an effect that is countered by the dialogue, which is jarringly contemporary...Perhaps the point is to remind us how little separates us from these characters 25 centuries old, but the modern idiom sits oddly with the careful, mesmeric poetry of the narrative. Where Vann succeeds is in creating a Medea who, at the climax of her tragedy, feels convincing and sympathetic. Far from a monster who sacrifices her sons for spite, he shows her as a fierce woman who, faced with losing everything, will not surrender control when it matters most...Bright Air Black is a compelling study of human nature stripped to its most elemental, and a vivid addition to the many interpretations of this character, whose complexity shows no sign of losing its allure."--The Guardian (UK) "Incorporating both mesmerizing sentences and concentrated fragments . . . Sensual and violent, often simultaneously, Vann's novel evokes the primal force of women's power."--Booklist "Vann peels back the layers of myth to depict the ruthless realities of Bronze Age existence. Medea is depicted as a protofeminist antiheroine who must rely on her wits to survive in a world of hostile and brutish men who will betray her . . . Insightful and poetic, dark and atmospheric."--Library Journal "Vann gives us a fresh slant on an early myth, an up-close and in-depth character study. From the outset, his drama unfolds in prose that is both atmospheric and electrifying . . . [A] stunning depiction of one of mythology's most complex characters . . . Its dark energy shocks us and shakes us, yet it is impossible to pull away."--The Australian "While Vann takes few risks with the myth itself, his genius lies in his ability to blow away all the elegance and toga-clad politeness that have grown like a crust around our idea of ancient Greece and to reveal the bare bones of the Archaic period in all their bloody, reeking nastiness. There is no magic. There are no gods. The shining city of Iolcus is a glorified pigsty on a hill."--The Times (UK) Praise for Bright Air Black -Incorporating both mesmerizing sentences and concentrated fragments . . . Sensual and violent, often simultaneously, Vann's novel evokes the primal force of women's power.---Booklist -Vann peels back the layers of myth to depict the ruthless realities of Bronze Age existence. Medea is depicted as a protofeminist antiheroine who must rely on her wits to survive in a world of hostile and brutish men who will betray her . . . Insightful and poetic, dark and atmospheric.---Library Journal -Vann gives us a fresh slant on an early myth, an up-close and in-depth character study. From the outset, his drama unfolds in prose that is both atmospheric and electrifying . . . [A] stunning depiction of one of mythology's most complex characters . . . Its dark energy shocks us and shakes us, yet it is impossible to pull away.---The Australian -While Vann takes few risks with the myth itself, his genius lies in his ability to blow away all the elegance and toga-clad politeness that have grown like a crust around our idea of ancient Greece and to reveal the bare bones of the Archaic period in all their bloody, reeking nastiness. There is no magic. There are no gods. The shining city of Iolcus is a glorified pigsty on a hill.---The Times (UK) Praise for Bright Air Black "Incorporating both mesmerizing sentences and concentrated fragments . . . Sensual and violent, often simultaneously, Vann's novel evokes the primal force of women's power."--Booklist

EAN: 9780802125804
ISBN: 0802125808
Publisher: Grove Press, Black Cat
Dimensions: 20.83 x 12.45 x 2.54 centimetres (0.24 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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1 review(s)
All Reviews
1
1
Marianne on
 
4.5 stars

“One of the men comes to the stern near Medea to fish in last light. A rough net weighted with stones…. He… flings the net overboard, beautiful pattern in flight, a practiced throw, the stones swirling out a perfect circle just as they hit the water… The surface becomes silver, opaque, molten, as if the sea could be reforged every day, great ingot of tin melted down each night, this fisherman casting his net to capture impurities”

Bright Air Black is the fifth novel by American author, David Vann, and is a retelling of the story of Medea. Vann begins his story with Medea, Jason and the Argonauts fleeing Colchis on the Argo, Golden Fleece in their possession, her father Aeetes in pursuit, Medea throwing pieces of her murdered brother Aspyrtus overboard to delay her father’s progress.

Their flight from Colchis to Iolcus, taking the daring step of sailing at night, is fraught with danger, both from Aeetes and the elements: “Fear living in close. In the hull and mast that might break, in the rudders, in the air that somewhere holds land, but mostly in the water. Rock and every creature unknown. No limit to the size of what can grow below. All animals on land known but always something new coming from the depths”

The sailors are wary of Medea, priestess of Hekate, rightly so, but her power over them holds no sway once they reach Iolcus and meet Pelias, the king Jason intends to usurp. Her grandfather may be Helios the sun, but Vann presents the infamous Medea, magical and monstrous, as a wholly human woman, if a determined, intelligent, tenacious and vengeful one.

Vann’s descriptive prose, as always, is stunning: “The sail no inanimate thing. Terrible in high wind, rigid and merciless and powerful beyond imagining, a thing of fear and will. But even now, in lighter winds, filled with desire, a restlessness, capable even of regret and sorrow, falling along an edge, hunching down, refilling but not entirely, some cost to the past. Only with no air, when it hangs fully slack, does it seem like linen. At all other times, this is impossible to believe”, and his personal experience with sailing is apparent on every page.

Vann’s evocative title comes from Euripides’s Medea; the beautiful cover shows the type of ship that Argo would have been; his interpretation of this legend from over three thousand years ago is powerful, enthralling and atmospheric.

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