Dream Angus by Alexander McCall Smith

Dream Angus: The Celtic God of Dreams is part of a series of mythical tales retold by great contemporary writers in a new way. Angus is a god and a giver of dreams in Celtic mythology. He not only brings dreams to people in their sleep, but he helps them to realise their wishes and desires in their waking lives, or at least this is McCall Smith’s interpretation of Angus.

This short read is made up of a number of shorter stories – one of which is Angus’s own story. The others are about different characters who encounter Angus, mainly in the present day. Celtic mythology is not something I’ve previously encountered, but I am quite interested generally in myths and legends because of the simple way the tales are told, mixed in with fantastical happenings. I did enjoy racing through this book, although I would have liked to have found out a little more about each of the characters. It’s such a short book that you never really know any of them intimately; you only ever get a glimpse into their lives. Still, that’s the nature of short stories, and McCall Smith expertly captures the essential essence of each character in the limited space available.

I’ve also previously read Margaret Atwood’s contribution to The Myths series – The Penelopiad – which reinvents the largely untold story of Penelope, cousin of the infamous Helen of Troy and the wife of Odysseus, who abandons her for twenty years while fighting in the Trojan War. She is traditionally given the role of the faithful wife, keeping Odysseus’s palace running smoothly and rejecting hundreds of suitors, yet when Odysseus returns he not only kills her suitors but also twelve of her maids. As you might expect from Atwood, she shifts the focus of this story to give us the viewpoint of Penelope and her murdered maids, challenging readers to read between the lines and take another look at this well-known story from a different angle.

If, like me, you’re intrigued by the idea of traditional myths retold with a twist, other authors in this series include: Chinua Achebe, Karen Armstrong, AS Byatt, David Grossman, Milton Hatoum, Natsuo Kirino, Tomás Eloy Martínez, Victor Pelevin, Ali Smith, Donna Tartt, Su Tong, Dubravka Ugresic, Salley Vickers and Jeanette Winterson.

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