Joan London’s Gilgamesh is set not far from where I grew up in the South-West of Western Australia so I am a little bias when I say I loved this book.
To celebrate Gilgamesh appearing on the First Tuesday Book Club in March 2013, I decided to revisit the book and this review that I wrote originally back in 2011.
It is the 1930s and the world is living on the edge. World War ll is imminent. It traces the lives of three generations of an extended family across Europe, Australia and the Middle East.
But the novel takes its name from a place and time a long way from Australia. The first Gilgamesh is one of the world’s oldest known poems and one of the greatest surviving works of early Mesopotamian literature. It is about the search for eternal life and is set somewhere between 2750 and 2500 BCE.
Joan London’s Gilgamesh is set in rural Western Australia and takes its name from one of the greatest surviving works of early Mesopotamian literature.
Gilgamesh is one of the world’s oldest known poems and is about the historical King of Uruk and his friend Enkidu. The tale of their journey in search of eternal life takes place somewhere between 2750 and 2500 BCE.
London’s Gilgamesh looks at life in the 1930s when the world is living on the edge and World War ll is imminent. It traces the lives of three generations of an extended family across Europe, Australia and the Middle East.
Frank Clark and his new bride Ada move from London to a small regional area of south-west Western Australia in search of a better life and the promise of owning their own land – all 160 acres of it – through a Group Settlement scheme.
Things don’t go quite to plan as Frank is not capable with his hands, their farm is the least arable of all on offer and they lose their son soon after he is born. It is a tough existence. When Frank passes away he is survived by two daughters, Frances and Edith, and it is the latter’s journey that fills up most of the novel.
When their cousin Leopold comes to visit with his Armenian friend Aram, the whole world is opened up to Edith. Leopold and Aram are on their way home to Europe (the long way) from an archaeological dig in Iraq. They bring with them tales of adventure and stories of the past, namely Gilgamesh.
Edith is attracted to Aram, they form a relationship of sorts and when he moves on, she discovers she is pregnant.
Two years later, Edith and her son Jim set off on their own journey of discovery as they head in search of Aram; first to London, then across Europe to Soviet Armenia where they are trapped by the outbreak of war. Here they build a life for themselves while they wait for the right timing to move on and find Aram.
The novel travels full circle when they find themselves with Leopold in Iraq and finally, back to Australia.
Settings of Gilgamesh
The first part of this novel is set close to where I grew up in regional Western Australia but I read it whilst living in a very different climate and landscape. London’s effortless, yet beautiful prose takes the reader over each sand dune and through every track with such accuracy that you find yourself scratching at non-existent insect bites.
Armenia and Iraq are far from Australia but London did not leave me behind. Rather, she took me with her on Edith’s quest so I too felt the claustrophobia feeling of being packed in a train travelling across Europe and the freedom of desert and its wide-open spaces.
About Joan London
Born in Perth, Western Australia in 1948, London is the author of award-winning short story collections Sister Ships and Letter to Constantine and two novels, the latest being The Good Parents.
London, J. (2001) Gilgamesh (Pan Macmillan Australia, ISBN: 0330363476, 256 pages.)
The Academy for Ancient Texts. (2001) The Epic of Gilgamesh.
My rating: ★★★★