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Reviews of Orpheus Lost


Library Journal: Fall 2007 Editors' Choice

Library Journal: listed in Best 25 novels of 2007

American Library Association's Booklist: listed in Best 30 novels of 2007

Orpheus Lost has made Booklist's Top 30 novels of the year, along with novels by Booker Prize winner Anne Enright, National Book Award winner Denis Johnson, Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, Michael Ondaatje, Ian MacEwan, Ha Jin, and Michael Chabon.

With a politically charged narrative intent on sorting out issues of identity and the clash between appearances and truth, this astonishingly rich novel by the author of Oyster will entrance readers the way Mishka's music entranced Leela. Highly recommended.

Library Journal (starred review)

A post-9/11 reworking of the Orpheus myth by one of Australia's most acclaimed novelists.

Publishers' Weekly (starred review)

Hospital turns the mythical tables, sending a modern-day Eurydice to hellish secret interrogation facilities in search of her Orpheus, a musician suspected of terrorist ties…. A novel that grapples so thoughtfully with such resonant issues demands close attention.

— Kirkus Reviews

Janette Turner Hospital's new novel, "Orpheus Lost," dramatizes harsh, current war headlines through the forebodingly resonant framework of Greek legend. Her hot-blooded, edgy characters scramble for survival and love in a world at odds with imagination, intelligence, and integrity. Hospital's 12th book, like much of her work, is characterized by a rich, varied appreciation of place… a rich, wise, alarming novel, energized by Hospital's masterful suspense…. "Orpheus Lost" poses provocative challenges about individual agency in public and private spheres. Hospital understands that we each write the headlines. She leaves readers feeling hope and grief and a terrible sense of urgency about our own lives at this fragile moment in history.

Boston Globe

…distinguished by an ability to render both the experience of extreme grief and the suspenseful mechanics of a conspiracy plot.

New Yorker

I read Janette Turner Hospital's Orpheus Lost in one sitting. She manages to blend alarming contemporary events with a total reimagining of myth - and make it scary and moving all at once.

— Edmund White, Princeton University

No book by this nervy, dynamic Australian-born author is ever anything less than intricate and deeply disquieting… Although she often follows the conventions of modern international conspiracy thrillers, Hospital is as consumed with the cultural past as she is with the topical present…. This novel's underpinning is the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice… Hospital's interest in the myth is not so much in its literary incarnations – Ovid, say, or Rilke – as in its musical influence…. Adding to the novel's mood of disorientation is its background murmur of anxiety. Random terrorist acts, large and small, punctuate the narrative. In these panicky times, Hospital suggests, our everyday environment has become an underworld, murky with paranoia and ruled by fear.

Yet there is consolation. For most of these characters, displaced and bewildered by global cataclysms – the Holocaust, Vietnam, the war on terror – music evokes both sorrow and happiness….. In its own way, Hospital's novel about music also aspires, like Michael Ondaatje's "Coming Through Slaughter" or Oscar Hijuelos' "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love," to be music, or at least to mimic the solace it can offer.

Lushly orchestrated, "Orpheus Lost" answers grief and fear with an emotional expressiveness more visceral than words, with the candor of music – and of myth.

Los Angeles Times


It must be a great challenge for an author to take a Greek myth and rewrite it in a modern context. It must be doubly satisfying, therefore, when the finished story is as good as Janette Turner Hospital's latest book Orpheus Lost.

The first chapter is spellbinding. . . . The magic has begun.

Australian Bookseller and Publisher [starred review; top rating of five stars]

[Orpheus Lost] will keep you on the edge of your chair or reading past your bedtime. . . . Turner Hospital has a beautiful lightness of touch through the nightmare contortions of the plot that she spins and twists like a rope of destiny. . . . Orpheus Lost . . . should enthrall every kind of reader; a book full of intelligence and drama and compassion that is also a captivating page-turner.

The Age (Melbourne)

Hospital shows her dazzling skill at thriller writing. [She is] a master-planner who never falters for an instant. Nor do the pace and intensity let up. . . . [A] consummate, nail-biting example of a myth retold for modern times.

Australian Book Review

The story of the musician and classical hero Orpheus, who ventured into the Underworld to retrieve his lost love, Eurydice, is one of the numerous narrative tributaries in Janette Turner Hospital's richly satisfying novel, the crowning achievmement of a three-decade-long career…. In its formal bravura and its challenge to conscience and intellect, Orpheus Lost is one of the finest of recent Australian novels.

Newsweek [Australian edition]

Hospital has become such a master of the drama of fiction [and] has managed to engage with the terrible matter of terrorism in a way that is not only serious but, in the narrative sense, engrossing. . . . [She] is, like Greene and Oates, a serious artist who is also a master of popular form and its transfigurations.

Australian Literary Review

Riveting reading. Terrorist blasts happen in the novel, but they are noises off… Hospital is more concerned with intimate violations, with how, in a fearful society, people start to get picked off and disappear… This superbly gripping novel alerts us to the real cost of terrorism. Beyond immediate damage and death, we could allow an erosion of freedoms that we take for granted. The terror of terrorism, Hospital suggests, is causing tectonic shifts beneath our feet.

The Weekend Australian

It's a rare creature, the literary page-turner. To have a plot that crackles with intrigue from the hands of a writer who aims for nothing less than literary brilliance – ah, what a lovely thing. Australian-born, US-dwelling Janette Turner Hospital is the creator of such fine works. She set herself an incredibly high standard with her masterful last book, Due Preparations for the Plague, and now follows with Orpheus Lost.

Sunday Telegraph

Janette Turner Hospital writes superbly of music, painting soundscapes through the evocative suggestion of words. In this, her best work since Borderline, which remains for me the perfect novel, she powerfully posits music as a sensitizing, humanizing force, the deliberate repudiation of which results in the uttermost barbarism.

Adelaide Review

It is not surprising that Turner Hospital has decided to retell the myth of Orpheus as it suits her purposes perfectly. In The Last Magician (1992), she created a subterranean world of labyrinthine tunnels, stretching from Brisbane to Sydney. It was a device that allowed her to explore parallel worlds of affluence and deprivation, security and danger, and ignorance and enlightenment. It was always apparent that the existence of one propped up the other…. Of course there is an underworld in Orpheus Lost too, one even more menacing…. It is the representation of the most sinister aspects of the current global sociopolitical situation that make this an unsettling and important book.

Canberra Times

Janette Turner Hospital is a magnificent novelist, imbued with equal parts intellectual breadth and emotional precision…. This is a powerfully intense novel which is far more than the love story of the two antagonists. Much of it is mediated through music, and Turner Hospital's capacity for drawing us into sensual experience is an enormous gift… Despite its vast scope and extraordinary circumstances, the novel is uncannily plausible… a novel orchestrated with great complexity, but where the melody is always clear and powerfully engaging.

Australian Jewish News