Friday, August 10, 2018

The Sibyl -- Summer Book 10

The Sibyl, by Pär Lagerkvist

I actually read this short novel a few weeks ago, on the way to Portland, but life has moved so fast that I haven't gotten around to blogging it yet.  It was easy to forget about, since the book disappeared from our AirBnB house -- perhaps it was a lovely present for the next person to come along?  I didn't mind losing it; it was an ancient paperback that my brother had left behind, and I was going to put it into the Little Free Library anyway.

The one I lost.  Not very beautiful; I won't miss it.

This was a very strange novel, I thought.  Near the oracle at Delphi, presumably sometime before about 500 AD, an aged sibyl lives up on the mountain with her son.  A man comes to visit her, asking for a prophecy, and tells his story; fearing bad luck, he told a man condemned to crucifixion not to lean on his wall to rest.  The man cursed him with immortality -- we have here the Wandering Jew of legend,* who complains against the God willing to curse him.  The sibyl responds with her story: she was once the pythia of the oracle, but after an affair with a soldier made her pregnant (or maybe it was the god of the oracle), she was driven out and has lived up on the mountain ever since.  Her son is mentally incapable, but even as she complains of her fate at the hands of a capricious god, he disappears and seems to vanish into heaven.  Together the man and the sibyl ponder the question of what it means to be chosen, and what it means to love (or hate) God.

I didn't really like it very much.  Probably it's very profound and allegorical and I don't get it.  The Sibyl is one of a quartet of novels treating such philosophical and allegorical subjects, and they made
 Lagerkvist world famous and got him a Nobel Prize for Literature.


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*Personally I think it's a pretty silly, not to mention anti-Semitic, legend.  I mean, Jesus is supposed to have forgiven his actual executors, saying they didn't know what they were doing. 


2 comments:

Donna H said...

I don't think this would be something I'd pick up for summer reading so I commend you for giving it a go. It sounds like it would make a good discussion book for a book club.

Jean said...

I always have this theory that in summer, I will have more time to tackle more serious reading. It defeats me every time and yet I persist in the delusion. I bet you're right about the book club!