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Bright Air Black

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  430 ratings  ·  112 reviews
In Bright Air Black, David Vann transports us to 13th century B.C. to give a nuanced and electric portrait of the life of one of ancient mythology’s most fascinating and notorious women, Medea.

In brilliant poetic prose Bright Air Black brings us aboard the ship Argo for its epic return journey across the Black Sea from Persia’s Colchis – where Medea flees her home and fath
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published March 23rd 2017 by William Heinemann (first published March 7th 2017)
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Average rating 3.61  · 
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Elyse  Walters
Nov 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"Bright Air Black"..... requires a life preserve jacket while reading! A Lightweight
polyethylene foam coated vest with a polyester shell will give you the protection needed to hit the waters with Medea, daughter of Aeetes, granddaughter of Helios, and priestess of Hekate. You'll take a mini - ( my ass) - nature boat ride with a few other characters as well.
Jason and his Argonauts, Argo and 'The Golden Fleece', and the Greek Gods will keep you company. Do not plan on breathing - -
Mar 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, 2017-shelf
Thanks to Netgalley for this ARC!

I knew I was going to get a retelling of Medea from her point of view during the quest of The Golden Fleece and after, with Jason, but I wasn't quite prepared for just how beautiful the lines of the text were. I mean, getting it all from the PoV of Medea was a pretty awesome treat, all by itself, and found myself fully in her camp despite all the awful things she does, but what really caught my attention, even more, was the prose.

This is some true mythopoetical r
Jan 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Retelling and Greek mythology enthusiasts
Born to destroy kings, born to reshape the world, born to horrify and break and remake, born to endure and never to be erased. Hekate Medea, more than god and more than woman, alive now, in the time of origin.

Bright Air Black is a lyrical ode to the rage and power and will of one woman, Medea. Spirited from the pages of Greek mythology and Euripides' Medea, David Vann's Medea is a fierce, mostly fearless princess and priestess, as much in love with Jason as desperately seeking her own domi
May 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Robin by: lark benobi
Earlier this year, I read the hugely popular Circe, named for a demi-goddess who becomes a witch. A witch who sometimes turns men into pigs. Once, in a fit of jealousy, she turned a nymph into a hideous multi-headed swamp beast. Reading this reminded me that Greek mythology isn't pretty.

Well, Bright Air Black makes Circe look like a child's bedtime story. Medea, niece of Circe, priestess of Hekate, is the witch to rule all witches. Shakespeare's weird sisters have NOTHING on her. Eye of newt? Pl
Feb 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction, arc
If I was to rate this book purely based on its language it would be a five star book, hands down. David Vann really knows how to write the most amazing sentences. Some paragraphs were just breathtakingly beautiful in a truly unique way. He mixes short, fragmented sentences with longer more elaborate ones and the result is absolutely stunning. There were so many instances where I had to pause reading just to appreciate the sheer genius of his expression and I am beyond impressed with this.

If you
Jan 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley, arc, 2017, fiction
4.5 Stars

Vann’s telling of his story of Jason and Medea begins aboard the Argo, with Medea’s father in pursuit.

She has ripped out all their hearts, she knows. Her father’s crew crippled to see him made smaller. She will humble him until there’s nothing left, until his men don’t know why they’re rowing. They will collect the pieces of the son and wonder that demigods can fall so easily.

Vann’s Medea is fiery, a quick-tempered, passionate, feisty descendant of gods and royalty. A sorceress. She f
lark benobi
Bright Air Black requires and rewards rapt attention. Like every other Vann novel the writing is a unique mix of poetry and viscera. There is really no one else who writes like this. There is no one else who could have so deeply imagined Medea murdering her brother on the deck of Jason's ship, as she flees with Jason from her father's wrath. The moment where she cuts her brother's throat, which she does without hesitation but while looking into his eyes, loving him, is moving and also very distu ...more
Mar 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a thing of beauty. True and utter beauty.

David Vann retells the story of fabled Medea. Anyone not knowing the myth should read it first (or at least google it) before reading this book and my review because there will be spoilers.

Medea is the most famous daughter of Colchis, supposedly some kind of witch, who killed her own brother and chopped his body to pieces, to help Jason getting away with the golden fleece (which he was only able to steal because she helped him). Later, after being
Bright Air Black is lyrical retelling of the story of Jason and Medea, drawing on elements from the Argonautica and Euripides' Medea to craft a tale that's at once unique and familiar. Book I of David Vann's novel begins in medias res: Medea has just killed her brother, and is helping the Argonauts flee from her father Aeetes, which she reflects on as they sail from her home in Colchis to Jason's home in Iolcus, having obtained the Golden Fleece. Book II follows Medea as she assists in Jason's a ...more
Feb 17, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley

'Bright Air Black' by David Vann

2 stars / 4 out of 10

Some months ago I read Christa Wolf's excellent version of 'Medea', so I was interested in reading David Vann's re-working of the Medea myth.

In this book, Vann is retelling the story of Medea and Jason (of Jason and the Argonauts), very much from the point of view of Medea; but told in the third person and the present tense. We are privy to her thoughts and her memories.

Vann's writing is extremely vivid. He spares the reader little, which mean

This has one of the most ridiculously grating styles i've ever had the misfortune of trying to read.
Tamara Agha-Jaffar
Bright Air Black by David Vann is a lyrical masterpiece. Based on Euripides’ classical Greek play Medea, Vann’s re-telling of Medea’s story is dark, brilliant, and hypnotic. Two notes of caution, however. First, some familiarity with the story of Medea and Jason is necessary prior to reading the novel. And second, this is not a novel for the faint of heart. Vann spares none of the gory details of Medea’s horrific actions in all of their blood-curdling madness.

The novel opens with Medea on the d
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 ★s

“One of the men comes to the stern near Medea to fish in last light. A rough net weighted with stones…. He… flings the net overboard, beautiful pattern in flight, a practiced throw, the stones swirling out a perfect circle just as they hit the water… The surface becomes silver, opaque, molten, as if the sea could be reforged every day, great ingot of tin melted down each night, this fisherman casting his net to capture impurities”

Bright Air Black is the fifth novel by American author, Davi
Sep 11, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Violent. Bloody. Primitive. A sort of male excuse to set Guardians of the Galaxy in Ancient Greece, devoid of the humour.

Not poetry, as there is only one emotion - fear.

And Medea - neither a woman, priestess, witch or ghost more like a cross between Putin and Erdogan.

Update folks: I knew I'd encountered the same level of mindless violence somewhere else - "Assassin's Creed" - one of my son's "Games" - same plot (minimal plot) - hack to pieces whoever crosses your path etc. etc. etc. etc. etc..
Strange that Vann’s most straightforward tribute to Greek tragedy should result in his least resonant and cathartic novel. This is a retelling of the myth of the witch Medea, best known via Euripides’ fifth-century B.C. play. The novel opens in medias res and is full of references to gods and other legendary figures; if it’s been a while since you studied Greek mythology, you may well need a refresher course. Atavistic glorying in gore is a trademark of Vann’s work, but there’s an extra layer of ...more
Text Publishing
Jan 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
‘Vann’s prose is as pure as a gulp of water from an Alaskan stream.'
Financial Times

‘[Vann] is the real thing—a mature, risk-taking and fantastically adept fiction writer who dares go to the darkest places, explore their most appalling corners.'

‘One of the most exciting writers at work today.’

‘One of the most darkly talented and unsettling writers working today.’

‘Vann is a brave writer, daring to write about and depict things that most other authors would baulk at, bu
Sep 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First of all I have to admit I didn't read anything about Medea.

This is a very atmospheric haunting story about a strong woman competing against the male dominancy in the world. She doubts the necessity of male supremacy.

There are also some very elementary insightful truths hidden in this story.
Medea, destroyer of kings.
The story of Medea here begins on-board the Argo, where the Argonauts having stolen the Golden Fleece, are being chased by Medea’s father. The rest is a well-known story, but this time our author chose a mesmerizing poetic prose to describe the horrendous events surrounding the Medea myth.

This is an exceptionally violent Medea, one that dislikes men, but falls in love with Jason, who is portrayed as an ambitious but lazy leader, simply because he doesn’t grasp the chanc
Feb 16, 2017 marked it as dnf  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arcs-netgalley
DNF @ 7%

Considering Medea was one of my all-time favorite reads from my Ancient and Medieval Cultures class in college, I had high hopes for this one. Alas, it didn’t pan out. Bright Air Black is set before Medea and Jason have children but after Jason has secured the Golden Fleece. Medea’s father, King Aeëtes, is in pursuit of them and in an attempt to slow him down Medea sacrifices her brother, dismembers him, and tosses pieces of him overboard knowing that her father will stop to collect each
Mark Landmann
Jan 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites, fiction
I almost didn't read this because I didn't find the subject matter very interesting, but I did because of the author's last two books, and I found it captivating. I wasn't that familiar with the source material so didn't know what to expect from the plot, and have enjoyed afterwards reading about Jason and Medea and the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece, as well as following along the journey as best I could on the map. But it's really the writing of course that I liked so much. I don't think ther ...more
Nov 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Bright Air Black by David Vann was a difficult one for me. I love the story of Medea and Jason. I had the opportunity to read two Medea narratives while in college and the Medea story stuck with me. A woman who grasps power for her own by slaughtering her own children, after betraying her father and killing her brother, is such a badass story. When I saw this was a first person narrative and retelling of the story, I knew I had to read it.

This is where things might have gotten me in trouble a bi
Aug 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A sharp, intense, and beautiful book. The layers of attention to Medea's complex character were exceptional, and lent a great deal to my overall understanding of the story (as well as to classical mythology more generally, actually) --- a winner, completely. Also Medea is a fucking kaweeeeen
Jul 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
Bright Air Black is a retelling of the myth of Jason and the Argonauts, but it's actually mostly about Medea, since it focuses on her point of view. It's always nice to see authors give voices to female characters who were either villainized or completely voiceless.

Medea from this book is not represented in a positive light, though. She is a ruthless sorceress. She is murderous and she desires power. But that's not all that she is. Medea is also in search of herself and her place in the world,
Okay, so full disclosure? I haven't actually read Medea and don't really know the story apart from the fact that there's a lot of killing and... stuff. But I figured that in a retelling of the play, it wouldn't matter too much, and I'd soon pick up an understanding of what was going on.


Right from the start we are thrown into the action, and I'm honestly still not too sure about what was happening. I think they're fleeing Medea's father, but then she's wallowing in the gore of her dismember
Oct 14, 2016 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this one, to a point. The premise and storytelling itself were splendid and unexpected - I had quite forgotten what this book was about by the time I opened it, so the fact that it is what it is surprised me.

I feel like, even though the prose and imagery were outstanding, that this book could use a couple of things to spiff it up though. It could definitely be served well with chapters - even if they're short, staccato chapters instead of long winding ones. The inability to put down t
David Vann has made a name for himself writing brutal, stark, and yet poignant stories that capture human nature. With Bright Air Black, he continues in that same tradition by putting his spin on the Medea legend. What follows among its pages is a story of love and revenge, as befits the subject, but also one of fierce pride and loss. Mr. Vann humanizes Medea in a way previously unseen and reminds readers that behind every powerful man there is almost always an equally powerful woman, in spite o ...more
Aug 24, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned, c21st, canada
I got up to page 64 and I thought: I'm sick of this...
I know the story of Medea, and I can see that Vann is writing a strange kind of feminist version of it, emphasising that Medea is outdoing the men by making them fear her as if she were a god. By defying all the conventions of womanhood she is able to command their fear and respect ... but... I got so sick of the violence and gore, I just decided I didn't want to spend my time reading any more of it.
Oct 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
**Thank you to Grove atlantic for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via Netgalley for the purpose of review**

I was fully braced to hate this novel; I was fully prepped to love this novel. I was not prepared to be hypnotized by it.

Having grown up in a Classical household -- my grandfather is a retired professor of the Classics -- and spent many a year and academic class studying the Classics, I am attached ot the stories of the Ancient Greeks to the point of being a very harsh critic. I am
Mar 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
it is frighteningly obvious Vann has channelled some menagerie of linguistic goddesses to assist in his writing, as he has a fiercely robust grasp of words and their place when constructing a narrative... this book has the feel of an epic poem of some long-forgotten type, and it oozes with violence and grief and bile and blood and force... Medea is a well-known Greek play, but Vann swerves the tale, or maybe just peels back the hidden layers of the original, dimming the usual voices, letting Med ...more
Nicki Markus
Sep 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bright Air Black is a book that snuck up on me. At first I wasn't keen on the free form prose, finding it a little jumpy and disjointed, but once I got a feel for it, I grew to enjoy it. The story is a familiar one, but David Vann breathes new life into the tale, taking the reader deep into Medea's psyche. It is certainly atmospheric and poetic, and Vann manages to maintain a sense of tension and expectation, despite the fact that readers will likely already know how it's going to end. This book ...more
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Published in 19 languages, David Vann’s internationally-bestselling books have won 15 prizes, including best foreign novel in France and Spain and, most recently, the $50,000 St. Francis College Literary Prize 2013, and appeared on 70 Best Books of the Year lists in a dozen countries. He has written for the Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Outside, Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, The Sunday Times, The Obse ...more

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