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Review: Sophrosyne by Marianne Apostolides

22225751Title: Sophrosyne

Author: Marianne Apostolides

Published by: BookThug

Publication Date: September 2014

ISBN: 9781771660501

Sophrosyne

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Sophrosyne is one of only four virtues identified by Socrates – four traits which, if lived deeply, define who we are as human beings. But sophrosyne is a concept our culture has long forgotten. “”Self-restraint, ‘ ‘self-control, ‘ ‘modesty, ‘ ‘temperance’ – none of these terms expresses the essence of the word.
In this provocative new novel about desire and restraint in a digital age by acclaimed author Marianne Apostolides, 21-year-old Alex is consumed by the elusive problem of sophrosyne for reasons he cannot share with others. While Alex’s philosophy professor believes studying it will help shed light on the malaise of our era, Alex hopes it will release him from his darkly disturbing relationship with his mother. As he attempts to uncover his mother’s truth, Alex is drawn inside an amorphous, indefinable undercurrent of love and violation. Only through his lover, Meiko, does Alex open into a new understanding of sophrosyne, with all its implications.

This book is the most complex story that I’ve come across this year. It is a book, not simply to be read, but to be studied. Apostolides’ writing invites in-depth conversation with her disturbing, yet fresh and thoughtful prose. This story has unsettled me. It’s stopped me in my tracks and forced me to reconsider my thoughts on humanity,  on romance, on academia, on intimacy. Alexandros is haunted by his awfully dark relationship with his mother. He struggles to free himself from the impotence that plagues him, both sexually and intellectually. Through his academics and with the help of his lover, Meiko, he begins to cast aside the chains imposed upon him by the relationship he and his mother had.

We never directly see Sophia, Alex’s mother, yet she is a constant and imposing presence. She is always there, pushing and taking from Alex. She is presented through his thoughts, perceptions, and memories. Everything he is and everything he becomes is influenced by her. She is as much alive to him when she is absent as when she is present. She pushes him to better him, she says. But she holds him back, restraining him and isolating him from his peers. He questions, and thus the reader questions, what it means to be human, what it means to be a man, what it means to love.

Sophrosyne is a novel that cannot be read just once. There is no way to completely understand to fully absorb this story after just one read because it pushes you to think further and to delve deeper. It’s challenging in a way that most stories are not, but Apostolides coaxes you through with eloquent and poetic prose. Despite such disturbing subjects, her writing is beautiful.

This story is unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s unsettling, it’s contemplative, and it’s vast. Apsotlides’ reader must be smart and thoughtful, willing to contemplate on the statements her characters make. For now, I will be setting Sophrosyne aside, with every intention of returning to dwell on this prose again soon.