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George Green
Bantam, 411 pages

George Green
George Green was born in Dublin in 1956 and brought up in Tipperary, where he lived in a house built on an ancient burial mound. After university he embarked on a career in sport and leisure in the hope that it would not be too difficult and help him meet girls. Ten years later he realised his mistake, took a MA in Creative Writing, began teaching and now works for the Department of English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University. Hound is his first novel.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by William Thompson

A contemporary retelling of The Tain has long been overdue. Ireland's greatest epic and the centerpiece of eighth century Ulster's cycle of heroic sagas, The Tain revolves in part around the exploits of the Irish Ulysses and mythic hero Cuchullain, and has been the focus of increased scholarship and interest since the emerging speculation concerning the Celts and their contribution to Western culture and literature. Translations exist (including the recent popular edition by poet Thomas Kinsella) and stories borrowing from it abound, but the only other novels I'm aware of that are based directly upon it are Tain and Remscela, written by the talented Gregory Frost (also author of Lyrec, the scifi The Pure Cold Light and 2002's critically acclaimed Fitcher's Brides). Unfortunately, both are long out of print and not readily obtained, and thus unread for comparison by this reviewer.

George Green's novel is to be applauded for its essential faithfulness to the original text, both in terms of its presentation of characters and events, as well as the spirit in which it is narrated. Told from the perspective of Cuchullain's charioteer, a Roman galley slave washed up on the shores of Erin, the description of Conor's fractious court and the Hound of Ulster's exploits capture the mythic proportions of its source material, and are related with intelligence and wit. Like the nonpareil exemplars they are, avatars of legend and a warrior ethos, Maeve, Connaught and Cuchullain quarrel with themselves, the gods and fate, exhibiting the pettiness of humanity and powers of deity in common measure. Larger than life, a single man can hold back an army, the beauty of a woman can lay waste a kingdom: the stuff of legend and myth in which parallels can be found in Homer, Valmiki or Snorri Sturluson.

But the sheer scale of these heroes and their adventures imposes a certain distance between the narrative and the modern reader, who, by the very size of the events and characters being presented, is made ever aware of the artifice of fiction. As conscious myth and allegory, one can appreciate these legends, but as story, as a novelization, the events and characters of this epic seem strangely inert and absent of emotion, representing no real sense of drama, but instead symbolic actors serving set roles upon a stage whose scope is so huge that it overshadows any sense of empathy or shared or even imagined experience. And I would suggest that in Green's decision to recount this legend, instead of significantly reinvent it, that he missed a creative and narrative opportunity to breathe new life into what are, from a narrative vantage point, older and to a degree archaic archetypes.

In looking back at the achievement of Homer, in part the reason why a work like The Iliad continues to resonate more than two thousand years later was the poet's ability to infuse his myth with a humanity that transcends the era in which it was written, and the mythic sources that inspired it. And while I am not suggesting this is entirely absent in The Tain, its identity as myth -- its archetypal character and function -- rather than its narrative qualities and humanity, is far more evident. That Green failed to recognize this (or maybe did and chose to ignore it in deference to textual authenticity) is ironic, considering the repeated emphasis placed within his novel on the bards' desire not to present a mere account, but to tell a good story. The Hound can be appreciated for presenting the The Tain in a more accessible and contemporary prose style, but as a novel it does little to enrich the original narrative material.

Copyright © 2004 William Thompson

In addition to the SF Site, William Thompson's reviews have appeared in Interzone, Revolution Science Fiction and Locus Online. He also has worked as a freelance editor for PS Publishing, editing The Healthy Dead and Grandma Matchie, by Steven Erikson, and Night of Knives, by Cameron Esslemont. He lives in Mesilla, New Mexico.

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