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Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles (Myths) Hardcover – 21 Oct 2005

4.3 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 21 Oct 2005
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books; First Edition edition (21 Oct. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841956716
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841956718
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 638,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jeanette Winterson was born in Manchester and read English at Oxford, during which time she wrote her first novel, the Whitbread award winning Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. Tanglewreck, Jeanette's first novel for children, was published to great critical acclaim in 2006. In the same year she was awarded an OBE for services to literature.

Product Description


"The most ambitious simultaneous worldwide publication ever undertaken." The Times"

From the Back Cover

The free man never thinks of escape.

Condemned to shoulder the world - for ever - by the gods he dared defy, freedom seems unattainable to Atlas.

But then he receives an unexpected visit from Heracles, the one man strong enough to share the burden - and it seems they can strike a bargain that might release him ...

Visionary and inventive, believable and intimate, Weight turns the familiar on its head, making light of fate and offering the chances of choice.

"A touching meditation on the difficult journey to self-knowledge, and also extremely funny, communicating verve and wit." Lucasta Miller, Guardian

"Winterson plays with the ancient tale with promiscuous wit and exuberant fantasy ... [she] produces some exquisitely filmic prose that is almost mythopoetic." Stevie Davies, Independent

"Uncategorisable, meditative and moving." David Mitchell, Sunday Herald

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Weight by Jeanette Winterson belongs to "The Canongate Myths" series from whence also came Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus And The Scoundrel Christ and Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad, both of which I had already read. Therefore I can say with utter certainty that this novel is far superior to both those works by a country mile.

I have seen Jeanette Winterson on television twice - once interviewed by Anne Robinson for 'My Life In Books' and then interviewed by Alan Yentob for Imagine. Her Imagine episode was one of the most heartbreaking and moving interviews of an author I have ever seen. I was fascinated by her and also, for a variety of reasons, saw her as a fellow survivor on the road who I deeply identified with.

Therefore, it was to my great shame, though I had wanted to and been prevented from reading 'Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit' as a 12 yr old, that I had not read a single one of her novels. I spied Weight in a charity shop and it was an instabuy not only because it was Jeanette Winterson but because I loved Greek Mythology when I did it first in primary school, then at university.

Weight takes the myth of Atlas and Heracles and retells it in a new and more literary way. At certain points Winterson interjects and speaks about how in many ways, the myth of Atlas is "her myth"- the one bearing most comparison to her own life, and that, too, I found I identified with.

Weight may be rather short but there is utter beauty in its brevity. Some of the one line sentences in this novel are stunning. As prose it is gorgeous, lyrical, emotive, resonating.

There is little I feel I need to say further about this book except this :

It is wonderful. Please read it.
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Format: Paperback
"[Atlas] turned his head &, just for a moment he didn't see the universe balanced there on his back. It was himself he was carrying, colossal & weighty, little Atlas desperately holding up the Atlas of the world."

We all know the gist of the story - after failing in his struggle to attain freedom from the Gods, giant Atlas is condemned to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. But what exactly was he struggling for in the first place? Even he is no longer sure - merely that "what began as just cause became just excuse". Then one day, Heracles arrives. He needs the (literally) world-weary Atlas' help to complete one of his legendary tasks, so offers to shoulder his burden for one day. This could be an opportunity for escape - but how can we run away from burdens we place on ourselves; which only exist in our own minds?

Winterson masterfully retells the ancient myth with canny psychological insight into the iconic Gods & legendary characters; the impulsive solipsism of fame-seeker Heracles & Atlas' desire for freedom clashing with his vanity & sense of responsibility. These are combined with Winterson's personal reflections on her own mental burdens & how this story has been `retold' in her own life ("my girlfriend says I have an Atlas complex", she reveals). Thus she breathes fresh life & relevance into a tale often repeated in a manner drier than ancient parchment. She also shows great insight into the purpose of myths - using the incredible to teach us humanly mundane truths about our personal mental landscapes & the drives which affect our species as a whole.

Weight drifts in places but is fabulously written with much to ponder in such a short volume.
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Format: Paperback
Weight retells the story of how Atlas came to carry the universe on his shoulders, and the temporary relief he received from Heracles, in a retelling of Ancient Greek myths.

The book really jars halfway through when Winterson inserts an auto-biographical note, drawing an explicit connection between Atlas carrying the weight of the universe on his shoulders and the way that she, and by extension other people, approach problems as they move through life. This rather creates a sledgehammer effect, forcing the reader to consider her explicitly drawn metaphor as one reads the rest of the book. This is not to say that the link is not one worth drawing attention to, it is just rather clumsily inserted. Attention to the metaphor could be better drawn at the end of the book as the 150 pages is not cumbersome enough not to be easily reread if the needed.

That Winsterson chose to do this is rather a shame as the rest of the book is very well written. The dialogue brings a real vibrancy, and Atlas' philosophical musings and general weariness fits in well with the story. Heracles is an entertainingly drawn, and comes across as a sex-pest with no regard for anyone's sexual needs bar his own. Winterson also has fun with the text, which frequently brings a smile to ones face, for example when Heracles, holding the universe, complains about mountains digging into his neck. The appearance of Soviet space doggy Laika towards the end is also touching. Overall, there is enough to make it worth checking out, but prepare yourself for the smack of the sledgehammer!
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Format: Paperback
What a disappointing book. Almost masturbatory in some areas, and I don't just mean the extended bits where Heracles strums his own trumpet - you can actually imagine Winterson writing this and thinking to herself 'oh yeah, that's for the academics, that's the stuff'. Winterson clearly fancies herself up there with the greatest philosophers of all eras, and the texts she produces just don't merit that belief. This book pertains to discuss Atlas' burden as being not a physical burden, but more a psychological one - the twin burdens of choice and fate. Ostensibly an interesting premise, and one that made me eager to read this book - I've always enjoyed the myth of Atlas, and the numerous retellings that muse upon what his true burden really was. I expected to love this book. By Zeus, how wrong I was.

The problem is that this book doesn't answer - or indeed ask - any questions that haven't been asked - and indeed answered - a million times before. An actual exchange from the book between Heracles and Hera reads as follows (slightly paraphrased due to my having blocked this featherlight, tedious tome from my memory):

"How can I change my fate?"
"You have to make your own destiny."

Well, thanks for that insight, Jeanette. I'd never heard that on an episode of Power Rangers before, or in literally every Nicholas Sparks adaptation ever. Honestly, parts of this book read more like a Judy Bloom novel than a serious academic retelling of Atlas - which, OK, this book is not a textbook, but if it attempts to deal with heavy issues (no pun intended) then it should do a better job of it.

Another technique that Winterson often uses is the good old self insert.
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