A thrillingly original, labyrinthine journey through myth, art, literature, history, archaeology and memoir, by the Baillie Gifford-shortlisted author
The tale of how the hero Theseus killed the Minotaur, finding his way out of the labyrinth using Ariadne’s ball of red thread, is one of the most intriguing, suggestive and persistent of all myths, and the labyrinth – the beautiful, confounding and terrifying building created for the half-man, half-bull monster – is one of the foundational symbols of human ingenuity and artistry.
Charlotte Higgins, author of the Baillie Gifford-shortlisted Under Another Sky, tracks the origins of the story of the labyrinth in the poems of Homer, Catullus, Virgil and Ovid, and with them builds an ingenious edifice of her own. She follows the idea of the labyrinth through the Cretan excavations of Sir Arthur Evans, the mysterious turf labyrinths of Northern Europe, the church labyrinths of medieval French cathedrals and the hedge mazes of Renaissance gardens. Along the way, she traces the labyrinthine ideas of writers from Dante and Borges to George Eliot and Conan Doyle, and of artists from Titian and Velázquez to Picasso and Eva Hesse.
Her intricately constructed narrative asks what it is to be lost, what it is to find one’s way, and what it is to travel the confusing and circuitous path of a lived life. Red Thread is, above all, a winding and unpredictable route through the byways of the author’s imagination – one that leads the reader on a strange and intriguing journey, full of unexpected connections and surprising pleasures.
Any bookshelf would be graced by the presence of [Red Thread]… [it] ask[s] readers to surrender to the unpredictable pleasures of getting lost… playful and gorgeously written.
A serious, substantial, scholarly and yet also highly personal book about mazes… Red Thread is a book to admire as much as to enjoy.
[Charlotte Higgins] is no ordinary author. Her thrillingly original book – it really is like no other – is itself a sort of maze of facts and thoughts, ancient tales and modern phenomena… on every page there is a sparkling idea or a fascinating piece of information. It is also beautifully written… a beautifully produced volume, full of colour illustrations of sculptures and paintings and tantalising maps of mazes.
In this beautifully produced and richly illustrated book… Charlotte Higgins takes us on a fascinating meander through the art and literature of the last 2,500 years… After reading this book you will see labyrinths everywhere.