The Choir of the Furies subtly raises issues over women’s class, aging and power and touches on our damaged relationship to nature, while showcasing Poschmann’s outstanding literary skills and gentle sense of humour. Less a retelling of Greek myth than a repositioning of the Furies in the present day, the book’s inclusion of poetry invites comparisons with Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red.
Variously abandoned by their husbands, three close friends, Mathilda, Birte and Olivia, set out on a forest hike that turns into a forest fire. The three women begin to react to nature differently, and there is the suggestion of a supernatural element at play. Annoyed and confused, the short-tempered narrator, Mathilda, tries to ignore her husband’s absence but nature itself seems to be in disarray: the fire, hurricanes bearing women’s names, winged women at every turn – harpies, Loreley, Swan Lake. While Birte hopes to cure her daughter’s rages with a phial of homeopathic liquid, Olivia believes she can atone for the harm caused to the forest through a ritual using wax votive offerings in the shape of body parts.
The novel is narrated in the third person, but almost entirely from Mathilda’s point of view until the very last page. It begins with an entry in her diary; the only one she writes, since something – perhaps her rage – later prevents her from doing anything other than scribbling. It is possible that this has a magical effect. Many of the passages deliberately end without resolution; there are chapters that close instead with poems by the author, further exploring Mathilda’s character and actions. The female characters are well developed, while the largely absent men are unnamed and remain vague sketches. This is a remarkable novel that plays with our expectations – both of physical reality and, through its form, of literary resolution.
Poschmann’s prose is highly precise and challenging to read, but extremely rewarding. At the same time, she leaves room for ambivalence, never making it quite clear whether anything supernatural is actually happening. The book’s originality lies in its pairing of the banal and the bizarre. Poschmann is not retelling Greek myth like many recent feminist writers, rather drawing on it to shape her characters and to suggest to us what might (or might not) be going on.