Library copy of Glorious Exploits by Ferdia Lennon

Review: Glorious Exploits

Glorious Exploits

Ferdia Lennon

Henry Holt, March 2024, $26,99

How did I get this book?: Library

This is not a properly critical review. The review is five stars, 12/10, would read again, no notes, you will not be sad to spend your time and money with Lampo, even if he is sometimes a frustratingly selfish idiot, because sometimes he’s not, and it’s beautiful when that happens. This is more like a review of the experience of reading Glorious Exploits, because you should absolutely do that.

You begin this book by looking at the cover and loving it. How can you not love it? It has googly eyes. I borrowed this book from the library, but if I buy my own copy, I will also buy appropriately sized googly eyes to stick to this cover. I hope someone else, someone braver than me about defacing — or enhancing — library books will add the googly eyes to this copy after I return it.

You immediately realize that what you might have read about this book is true: this is a historical novel set nearly 2500 years in the past, in Syracuse on the island of Sicily, and everyone speaks like they’re Irish because the author, Ferdia Lennon, was born in Ireland, and he, like Seamus Heaney translating Beowulf, didn’t see any reason for the Irish English he speaks to be any lesser than the British English that is often used in historical works, even though no one in the area would have spoken any kind of English at all. So Irish English it is, and it is great.

You might have also read, maybe even in the blurbs on the back cover while you were standing in the aisle at the bookstore or the library, that this book is about friendship and war, and is it ever. The war has recently passed and the Athenians have either been killed, chased off, or rounded up and left to die in two local limestone quarries. One of these quarries is where the glorious exploits take place: two plays by Euripides are staged here, with the narrator, Lampo, and his lifelong best friend and theater obsessive Gelon as directors. There are other exploits arguably more glorious in the novel, and a few exploits that range from merely petty to as shitty as exploits can get, but these are the centerpieces.

You might find yourself talking to the book, and to Lampo in particular, like you might talk to characters in a movie. “Don’t buy the shoes, Lampo! Come on. You know that money was for food.” “Ah, Lampo, you didn’t have to say such an insensitive thing to Lyra about her being a slave.” “Oh, shit, Lampo! I didn’t think you had it in you, but here you are!” I read the last third of the book in one go with my fingers at my mouth in concern for absolutely everyone involved, except maybe Alekto, who makes theater props and costumes. She’ll be okay no matter what happens, inside or outside the book, I believe.

Then you finish the book and have all of your feelings. Afterward, you’ll probably head to the shelf of books you haven’t opened since college, or you’ll look for a PDF online, or you’ll search for a decent ebook copy to download on the fly for a few dollars. You’re looking for Medea and Trojan Women, sometimes translated as Women of Troy.

When you have your copies, you’ll read those plays, probably quickly. It might only take you an hour or two to get the gist of each play. Then you’ll find yourself revisiting those pages in Glorious Exploits where the plays are enacted to see which scenes, which lines, Lennon chose to illustrate the plays, the performances, the actors, the audience, and the directors. If you have the brain space that day, you’ll stare into space and consider the literary device of a play within a play—or a play within a novel—and you might eventually come to the conclusion that a few of the people in Glorious Exploits definitely doth protest too much during the performance.

Then you’ll take a breather, maybe do some laundry or dishes while thinking about the role of friendship in your life, maybe walk the dog and consider themes of war and compassion. Eventually you’ll sit down again in your wingback chair equivalent to start reading the next book in your to-be-read pile.

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