A Five Star Review of
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.