Marja-Leena Rathje
Home ::: on Marly Youmans' Thaliad

on Marly Youmans' Thaliad


I have recently finished a second reading of Thaliad, called a post-apocalyptic epic in blank verse. Marly's writing swept me into another world with her beautiful language and her storytelling magic. Here's one of my favourite passages:

The glare threw flames of dazzle, dazzle cast
Uncanny aura, aura beckoned dream,
and dream was drowned by day and brought tide
Of gold in spilling flood, to flood the mind
Until no mind was minding anything
But lapping radiance, and radiance
Ruled Glimmerglass and flashing form, the form
Of something weird, making and unmaking,
Unmaking Thalia till Thalia
Was empty husk, and husk was packed with sun,
And sun was sealed in trembling dark, and dark
Arose in dreams, and dreams made lucent night.

(from Chapter XVI, page 62-3)

To me, these words seem like waves repeatedly washing ashore. That repetition and rhythm made me think of The Kalevala, a 19th-century work of epic poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Finnish and Karelian oral folklore and mythology.

I first learned about Marly's book as a follower of her blog The Palace at 2:00 a.m.. And about Clive Hicks-Jenkins' unique and beautiful illustrations for it. Edited and published by my friend Beth Adams for her own Phoenicia Publishing in Montreal, it is truly a collaboration between three artists.

I'm no good at book reviews but could not let this go by without a mention and a recommendation, dear readers. For a fine review, please read this.

Last year, I wrote a bit about Marly Youman's novel The White Camellia, which I also enjoyed and read twice. There's something about her writing that I enjoy reading most during the night hours (2 a.m.?) perhaps when the magic feels strongest.

Added January 26th, 2013: Clive Hicks-Jenkins has posted about "a glittering review of Thaliad" at the book blog Tomcat in the Red Room. It really is fabulous. As I commented, it made me feel relieved that my dismal knowledge of the classics and other related literature did not matter for my enjoyment of the book.

Marja-Leena | 20/01/2013 | 13 comments
themes: Books, Other artists



yes, the rhyme is definitely the singing rhyme like in our folk poetry.

It is difficult to get same kind of alliteration in English, because of the lack of voals (sp?) , in Finnish vokaalit.

There are several translations of Kalevala, and I have not been quite satisfied with any of them. My husband, who's English-speaking American, took a job for himself during many summers in our summer cabin to rewrite some passages of Kalevala having a guide in form of some printed non-Lönnrot fold poetry. There's tens of thousands of meters of that poetry in cellars of our national library.

I have no idea how is the plan of digitalization coming along. I understand that Ainu-poetry of Japan is almost done already.

I'm delighted that you liked Thaliad so much, Marja-Leena! Thanks for writing this appreciation. Marly's work is magic for me too.

Thank you, Marja-Leena--

I think this, my 11th book, might just be the most beautiful, with its profuse artwork and lovely design. (And that's saying a lot, as Clive has worked with me before, and "The Foliate Head" is also remarkably lovely.)

Hope your readers will take a peep and consider supporting adventurous small press collaborations--publisher Elizabeth Adams is a native of New York state, now a resident of Montreal, so she has many connections on both sides of the US-CA border.

Ripsa, thanks for confirming my feeling that there's some similarity to the Kalevala rhythm. I think you are right about the Finnish language having more vowels which makes it more musical to many ears. Translations are very difficult, especially in poetry, for example Rilke's work.

Your husband's project with non-Lönnrot folk poetry sounds fascinating. Is he still working on it, perhaps digitizing it? And I didn't know about the Ainu poetry project.

Beth, thanks to you for the post about this at Phoenicia! I so admire your book design and editorial work on this lovely book. You must have had great pleasure with this collaboration.

Marly, thank you for your beautiful creations! I've only read three of your books so far but they all have that magical quality and lovely language. 'Val/Orson' arrived last week and I anticipate another magical journey!

I read some other passages on one of the review pages and found them to be as fascinating as the one you've posted. It sounds as though Marly has found a way through the conceptual minefield of post-Apocalyptia. I have it on my list for when it comes to

Did you ever read Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban?

Susan, I'm glad you read some of the other great passages. I'd say this post-apocalyptic tale is somewhat gentler than many except for the very sad deaths of several of the children.

You might consider ordering the book directly from the publisher as both publisher and author get more income that way.

I don't think I've read that book - will put it on my reading wish list for sure, thanks!


Glad you got "Val/Orson!" That's a great way to get it until they are gone, as the last copies are on sale at such a low price that even international shipping isn't daunting. I hope people who wanted it but couldn't afford the book will find it... And that's the nicer edition of the two, as well. "Val/Orson" is rather frolicsome! In a Shakespearean, Arcadian sort of way.


Just wanted to say that I adored "Riddley Walker" when it came out and have reread it once since. And I can see why you mentioned it, as the mythic base is so strong, and there's a skewing of traditional beliefs. And of course, there's the post-apocalyptic business again. Very different but kindred in some ways. I hadn't thought of Hoban, but there's a good comparison/contrast there.

Susan, unfortunately my supplier doesn't offer listings for our books - just in the UK and Europe. I don't know why. If you'd like a copy I can send you one directly from my supply in Montreal, and it will cost quite a bit less than if you ordered it through Amazon. You can contact me at the email address linked here, or at phoeniciapublishingATgmailDOTcom.

Marly, yes, it was a deal too good to miss. I see it is now out of print so I guess I got lucky. Have only just dipped into it so far...

Glad you've come back to comment on "Riddley Walker", thanks!

Beth, thanks for clarifying that! Have forwarded this to Susan in case she is not back to read later comments.

(Oh and thanks for using the 'reply to' feature. It had not worked for me in the past so I'm pleased to see that it works now and have successfully tried it for myself.)

So glad you got one! When I checked a few weeks ago, fewer than 50 remained...

Marly, I'm glad too! Last night's insomnia had me reading it to the point that I didn't even want to go back to bed :-)