Wednesday 22 March 2017

Bull, David Elliott

What is it with you mortals? 
You just can't seem to learn: 
If you play with fire, babies, 
You're gonna get burned
Much like Lin-Manuel Miranda did in Hamilton, the New York Times best-selling author David Elliott turns a classic on its head in form and approach, updating the timeless story of Theseus and the Minotaur for a new generation. A rough, rowdy, and darkly comedic young adult retelling in verse, Bull will have readers reevaluating one of mythology's most infamous monsters.
* * * *
4 / 5 

Bull was a wild ride. I am not an expert in the story of the Minotaur, so I went into this virtually blind and was rewarded with a hilarious, witty, and surprisingly sorrowful tale. Does Elliott do the original justice? I have no idea. What I do know is that I had fun. 

So this Minos
This "king" 
This two-faced 
The guy's all ego. 

Bull is guilty of the same crime that I bash Rick Riordan for: making a mockery of and not doing justice to divine figures. The difference here is that Elliot's characterisation is actually hilarious and not just cringey. I'm also reasonably sure it is satire, but to be honest I'm not really sure. Poseidon's first line, and indeed the first novel of the book, is "Whaddup, bitches?", which really sets the tone; Bull is not a delicate book, this is not a Mary Renault retelling but a humorous, often crass, and sassy version with a good dose of modern upholstering (language-wise, not setting). This is not to say that Bull is unsophisticated. There are lots of little homages to Homer,  the poetry is reasonably fluid and has fairly decent rhyme, but I'm not a poetry critic.

She calls her calf Asterion. Asterion. Asterion. 
That's my name - Asterion.
I'm Ruler of the Stars  
Bull is split into different "books" each book is told by a variety of people: Poseidon, Daedalus, Pasiphae, Minos, Ariadne, and Theseus who each have their own unique voice. At the end of the book the author discusses the choice of form for each character, which was quite interesting to read about. For example, Daedalus has fairly standard quartets because he is a simple, straightforward engineer.

Minos says I'm nothing more than Nothing. 
Can Nothing take a form and call it me? 
But Nothing is ever what it seems

My favourite was by far and away Asterion - rather than amusing, Asterion's parts are sad and often beautiful. As the book progresses his verses become more and more broken to reflect his deteriorating mental state, and the pages becomes darker and darker as becomes less man and more minotaur. Ariadne is also a hit with me: she's snarky, bitter, sassy, and her language is not tame, but she's also compassionate and kind. In terms of sheer humour though, Poseidon's narrative definitely takes the grand prize; the book alternates between Poesidon as the overall narrator, and everyone else, so he gets the most page time. His parts are peppered with grave comments and a wagonload of banter.
Mother prefers to take refuge in madness
I don't blame her, I confess:
There's danger in sanity 

There is a lot of adult humour and adult language, such that I wouldn't recommend to under sixteens. There's also a fair amount of misogyny going on, which wasn't exactly my favourite thing ever, but understandable given the story. Other than that, my only real complaint is that it is a touch too long. Mostly, Bull is just a bit of a laugh, but particularly towards the end I get a lot more respect for the poetic decisions that Elliott made. The last dozen or so pages bleed emotion. The key to enjoying this is to be aware of what you are getting when you start; expecting a classic collection of poems is only going to ruin the pleasure you might have gotten out of Bull.

My thanks to Netgalley, the author, and the publisher for an ARC of Bull

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