Gilgamesh – Joan London

I’m not sure why I chose this book from the library at the weekend. I hadn’t heard of the title or this Australian author before and the cover isn’t especially captivating but I’m so glad I did. The first thing I have done on finishing it is to add Joan London’s second novel The Good Parents to my wish list.

Gilgamesh is such a lovely book, gentle undramatic writing about events that are anything but. It is essentially the story of a young mother Edith and her baby son Jim, starting out in 1930s Australia, travelling under challenging pre war conditions to Armenia, in search of the boy’s father and their place in the world. As they travel to far away and exotic places, meeting various and at times slightly magical characters, their search mirrors that of countless others who have travelled before them, companions of one sort or another answering the call to travel and find their ‘home’. These travels also reflect those of Gilgamesh, the character of the world’s oldest known poem who had all material riches but travelled the world in search of immortality. Edith’s cousin Leopold carries this poem with him everywhere and it is Leopold and his friend Aram’s visit from London early on in the story that sets off the chain of events that follow. The history of the characters, their families, their homelands are acknowledged throughout and this was something I loved about the book.

The last third of the book was a little meandering at times. It didn’t quite take the direction I was hoping and I was preparing to be a little disappointed. But the ending was completely right and in keeping with the spirit of the story.

Just lovely.

2001, 272 pages

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5 responses to “Gilgamesh – Joan London

  1. On to the TBR list it goes! 🙂 Does it have anything to do with the epic of Gilgamesh, or is the title a coincidence?

    • Eva, it does have something to do with the epic of Gilgamesh in a symbolic way and is mentioned in the story. I had never heard of it before but am going to investigate further now!

      • How neat: I read Stephen Mitchell’s translation a couple of years ago and loved it. So I’d highly recommend reading it if you get the chance; it’s quite short!

  2. I read this years ago when it first came out–the cover on my edition had a woman looking out of a train, which I thought was nicely done. I just came across it not too long ago in a book pile when I was looking for something else. It was serendipitous to see your post since I think this is not a very well known or much written about book. Glad you enjoyed it–your post brought back a little of the story, which has sadly faded away, but perhaps I should go grab it and read it again. I thought at the time I should really have read the poem alongside the book!

    • Danielle, I have seen the cover you read and was tempted to use it as I also think it was nicely done and a little bit more enticing. I am also thinking that I should read the poem but knowing me I probably won’t! I’m pleased to hear you have also read it and you’re right it doesn’t seem that well known outside of Australia – I think it won some awards there. Lovely writing. I see that Lisa over at ANZ lit lovers has it and Joan London’s other novel on her must read list so that is always a good sign.

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