Poet and author of Autobiography of Red returns with a new retelling of an ancient Greek tragedy, Euripedes's Herakles. In myth, Herakles—also known as Hercules—is an embodiment of manly violence who murders his wife and children. Carson explores the legacy of violence and the question of whether redemption from some depravity is possible.
Like Herakles, Carson gets away with everything in this strange and surprisingly timely book. A cross between a dramaturge’s dream journal and a madman’s diary ... A facsimile of Carson’s own personal playbook, H of H is a performance of thought, one that speaks not only to the heroic past but to the tragic present ... What Carson does again and again in her non-books is return us—jarringly, brazenly, delightfully—to that which predates the material culture of the book and which will persist if we ever move beyond it: the concentrated effort to externalize a mind and its thoughts ... Whatever 'H of H' might mean—it isn’t clear—the book is really 'H of C,' 'Herakles of Carson,' a version that only this one bizarre and brilliant brain could produce ... Too often, modernizations like these can seem gimmicky—reflexive attempts to make old plays relevant to new audiences. But Carson’s work never reads that way. This is partly because, unusually, the flow of time in her writing feels bidirectional; it is not clear if old heroes are being swept into the present, if current readers are being swept into the past, or if all of us are simply aswirl in time together. But it is also because her work is unfailingly emotionally astute, the references, like those overalls, resonant rather than arbitrary.
H of H Playbook is much more about Carson’s own obsessions and a Euripidean spirit of subversiveness than fidelity to the content of Euripides’ text. The translation leaps between antiquity and modernity, indulging Carson’s longheld erotic fascination between Herakles and the monster Geryon, and her penchant for anachranisms ... In one beautifully bound book, she has stitched together the Anne Carson starter pack in Euripidean gift wrapping ... H of H glances off Euripides’ original text and runs into infinity on its own, into another time and place ... As illustrator and translator, Carson creates a conversation between the visual and the written, that—like with modernity and antiquity—forces the reader to leap back and forth, while the meaning weaves in between. The illustrations are often swirling forms that mimic one another, bursting out of their own frame and squirming in between dialogue, as if they can’t be held in place by their borders ... It’s difficult to characterize, both beyond any one form and a perfectly singular form. It epitomizes the Carsonian mythology that mixes genre.
... it bears the usual hallmarks of her writing: unquestionably erudite, but also lucid, sharp—and supremely funny ... a refreshing take, peppering its source material with digressions and allusions to Russian revolutionary Lenin, the Chernobyl disaster and even Jane Austen's novel Mansfield Park. In doing so, Carson commits a slew of infidelities, but gives Euripides' play a quickness and a vitality that may have been lost in more doggedly faithful translations. While it does not flinch from the horror of Herakles' actions, Carson's play, tone-wise, seems like the inverse of a tragedy. It is full of absurd rhymes and lines written in a language that is heightened, but also candid and colloquial ... If there is anyone capable of making well-written verse accessible in the age of Instagram, it is Carson.