Not to be Overlooked: Issue 18
By Emily Simms and Alicja Baranowska
Not to be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers reviews by Emily (The Death of Francis Bacon) and Alicja (Icarus).
The Death of Francis Bacon by Max Porter
Published by Faber and Faber, January 2021
As an avid admirer of Max Porter’s work but being less familiar with that of Francis Bacon, I was not sure what to expect from Porter’s newest book. For readers of Lanny and Grief is the Thing with Feathers, it is unmistakably a Max Porter book, from the lyricism and rhythm of the lines to the overall structure of the work. In the same fashion, it is fresh, dark and twisted, and for a short length of time, transforms you into a fly on the wall to encroach on the private moments of a dying man.
There is no better way to describe this short marvel other than by repeating its blurb: “A great painter lies on his deathbed. Max Porter translates into seven extraordinary written pictures the explosive final workings of the artist’s mind.”
The book begins with the “preparatory sketch”, which Bacon was notorious for saying he never did before creating his work, and unravels in six more written pictures short, sharp bursts of Bacon’s runs of thought. You may find yourself deep-diving into Bacon’s personal history and works to piece together the book. As someone who knew nothing about Bacon apart from his profession, even looking up some of his most notable works gave me a stronger sense of the tone and structure of Porter’s pocket-sized interpretation of the artist’s final days. Although brief and slightly eccentric, the carefully crafted narrative is clear from start to finish. Every sentence is loaded with meaning and research, and though you may not completely understand them, can be objectively appreciated.
It reads like a passion project, and in Porter’s own words, “an attempt to express [his] feelings about a painter [he has] had a long unfashionable fixation with.” Each of us has that specific knowledge of one topic or person that we could fill a book with, loaded with Easter eggs and inside jokes, and Porter has done exactly that. In no more than seventy-four pages, the reader is invited to sit at the private bedside of a dead artist, listening to the final thoughts and criticisms that have plagued him throughout his life.
Icarus by Adam Wing
Published independently, October 2017
I’m a huge fan of retellings of Greek myths, but it is rare that I find one that captivates me so thoroughly, especially when it comes to very well-known stories that have so many retellings available. However, Adam Wing’s Icarus is definitely a book that will stay in my mind for a long while.
The myth of Icarus’ foolishness is deeply ingrained in many cultures, from paintings to pop culture references. Icarus was the son of Daedalus, inventor and the creator of the Labyrinth. Father and son attempted to escape the island of Crete on wings constructed from feathers and wax. But Icarus flies too close to the sun.
Adam Wing reconstructs the well-known myth, making the characters more human and the story more dimensional. Even if you know the myth, this fresh narrative makes you want to believe its outcome will be a happier one. Adam Wing’s writing creates an emotional and heartfelt account that makes you root for the characters in this tragic story. Icarus is an intense and exceedingly heartbreaking book, and I would definitely recommend it to those who enjoy retellings of Greek myths.
There are many layers to this story, but at the heart of the narrative is a complicated relationship between father and son as well as between a teenage boy and his confusing feelings towards his friend, Oentas. In this reimagining, family, friendship and first love all play a major role, making the characters feel more real. The brilliant characterisations of well-known figures make them feel flawed, confused, lost and closer to us.
I really loved the descriptions in Icarus and the way all of the characters came to life in this story. The strong imagery and engaging narrative are the greatest aspects of the book. Wing’s writing evokes strong emotions throughout the whole book, creating a new and unforgettable retelling of the myth we all know so well.