read for: what's in a name challenge
*may contain spoilers*
Around the shrunken water hole, scrawny gazelles jockeyed for position.
A novelization of the legend of Gilgamesh. Beginning with the origins of Enkidu, the wild man, Mayflies tells the story of a corrupt and childish king (Gilgamesh) who both terrorizes and neglects his people, and the priestess (Shamhat) who braves the wilderness in order to tame the wild man in the hope that he will in turn humble and tame the wild king.
There are a lot of elements of this book that were really strong, particularly the historical detail. There was a lot of interesting descriptions of daily life, ritual, and religious customs that were well incorporated into the story. Never did the descriptions feel textbook-like which I find can be a problem sometimes when writing about such a lost, ancient culture. Instead, the reader came to understand these aspects of life almost through experience rather than a recitation of fact. But to be honest, I wanted to like this a lot more than I did.
While I enjoyed the historical and cultural elements, and really enjoyed the brief author's note describing her research and what kinds of documented history she had to go on, I just never got invested into the actual story. I wasn't compelled by any of the characters except Shamhat, and even she fell a little flat for me at times, specifically with regard to her relationships (I don't think I can bring myself to classify them as love) with Zaidu and Enkidu. Perhaps they would have been more believable had the book been longer and more time could have been spent developing the turning points in their respective relationships. Shamhat was mourning the death of Enkidu, who she claimed to have loved, when Zaidu turned up at her door out of the blue and she was suddenly so eager to run away with him. I didn't quite buy it.
Also, something about the prose itself rubbed me the wrong way. Both the conversation and the narration had a very modern feel which jarred a little with the incorporation of more ancient ideas and beliefs, such as using the liver to experience the emotions we in modern society attribute to the heart. That, however, could well be just a personal preference and while it might not phase another reader, it just didn't quite work for me.