Recommended by US Review of Books
The Memoir of the Minotaur
by Tom Shachtman
book review by Kate Robinson
“In your next incarnation, each of you must resolve to make yourself the sovereign of your own labyrinth of joy and pain, and to set as your task the recognition of and empathy with the labyrinths of others.”
Horror marries philosophical hilarity in this spin-off of the bawdy Greek myth of the minotaur. He is born of an engineered union between a white bull and Queen Pasiphaë—wife of King Minos of Crete—whose unnatural desire in this version thrusts her to a tragic end when she is slain by birthing the horned infant. As a side note, Pasiphaë is assisted in her bestial endeavor by Daedulus the architect, best known as the father of Icarus and creator of the labyrinth where Minos banishes Asterion, the minotaur. Eventually slain by Theseus, who is aided in navigating the maze by Minos’ daughter and the monster’s half-sister, Ariadne, Shachtman’s minotaur then shares his tale with an audience of fifty centuries in Hades, waxing poetic with philosophical musings.
The author’s significant experience as playwright, historian, and author of a book about serial killers serves him well in this appalling but entertaining tale. Shachtman adeptly distills the original rendering into brilliant twenty-first-century prose and characterizations, decipherable by the standards of both literary and trade fiction audiences. The contemporary slant brings these grisly aspects to life in sharp focus with minute detail, as is often customary in modern storytelling and filmmaking. Readers will also find that the illustrious but tragic minotaur engages in prodigious quantities of graphic sex and cannibalism with the sacrificial humans dispatched by Minos to the labyrinth, where both they and the monster are forever trapped. The cautionary tale explores the complexities of attachment, lust, deceit, power, violence, and the various types of suffering caused by these conditions. However, it does so in a straightforward, ribald fashion that makes the tragic subject matter more palatable and the minotaur’s characterization more uniquely human.
RECOMMENDED by the US Review
A 9 out of 10! for Tom Shachtman’s
The Memoir of the Minotaur
Tom Shachtman’s Memoir of the Minotaur is one of the most intriguing books I’ve read in a long time. It’s pretty violent – as gods and monsters in ancient times are wont to be – but it’s also pretty funny. One can’t help but empathize and find oneself rooting for the poor old Minotaur who was really not given much choice but to play the monster everyone wanted him to be. You get the impression he would much rather have been left to frolic in a field but just shrugged and made the best of it. It was a thoroughly engrossing romp from start to finish, with a healthy dollop of mythology and ancient history thrown in!
Oblong Books & Music
Millerton, New York
A Five Star Review of
The Memoir of the Minotaur
by Tom Sachtman
Must read 🏆 ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰
Tom Shachtman is a word-master; if you are a fan of Neil Gaiman or Salman Rushdie, you don’t want to miss this book.
The Memoir of the Minotaur is the posthumous confessions of the half-man, half-bull of Crete as offered to an audience of recently-deceased, 21st century fellow souls in Hades’ domain. It shares ts form with other popular retellings of the monster narrative such as John Gardner’s Grendel, and the narrative voice has likenesses to the exuberance, bawdiness and blasphemy of Salman Rushdie and John Barth. It deals with themes of power, violence, sexuality and the role of storytelling, yet its most endearing quality is in presenting the hilarity and absurdity of our classical values interacting with our animalistic cores. The Memoir of the Minotaur is for readers unafraid of a rollicking good tale involving anatomically-complex beings, unforgivable puns, the champion serial killer of all times, scantily-clad Greek maidens and youths, articulate tyrants, and feminist proto-history leavened with theological impertinence.
Seldom have I written a review in which I can quiet the voice of the critic while losing myself in the story. As I read The Memoir of the Minotaur, that critical voice was very quiet; I am not exaggerating when I say the prose is so nearly flawless that we may as well call it perfect.
The book is exactly as described in the title; Asterion, otherwise known as The Minotaur, is the monster that lived in the center of the Labyrinth of Greek mythology. The Minotaur speaks to us directly, in first person. His language shifts from classical to modern, with humor and 21st-century slang thrown in to surprise the reader and to remind us that Asterion has been living (well – not living, exactly) in Hades for fifty centuries, and is now meeting us in our own time.
In contrast to the labyrinth, which is, by nature, hard to navigate, this memoir is a straight line from birth to death and beyond. This is an interesting choice and it is appreciated, as this reviewer is not an expert in ancient myth. A meandering storyline would likely have confused me. The Minotaur lives a life in which his only diversions are eating (a lot of people) and sex (with a lot of people). Mr. Shachtman has depicted both pastimes unapologetically and with a matter-of-fact tone that’s perfect in the context of this story.
As I read the book I wondered what my experience would have been had I already been well-versed in Greek Mythology. I did finally give in to my curiosity by googling the Minotaur and his fate when I was nearly done with the book. I wish I hadn’t, and I don’t recommend researching the characters or events of the Labyrinth until you’ve finished the book. This author’s creative medium is clearly the written word, and there is not one phrase that has not been carefully selected and evaluated. The question/answer section after the end of the story feels staged as a way to allow some bragging, but Shachtman has a right to brag. This is a work of art and earns an unequivocal five stars. If you enjoyed Madeline Miller’s Circe or anything by Neil Gaiman you will not want to miss this book.
REVIEWED BY Catherine Beeman
I am a reader with ten years of bookselling experience who is passionate about sharing my love of books with others. My goal is to be direct and relatable, with hopefully a little humor thrown in.