The Giant Dark is a reimagining of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice (a dark, and depending on your take, problematic story of doomed lovers). As someone who finds crossover genres particularly interesting, I was very excited to see how the story was handled and recrafted in the hands of a Pakistani author, Sarvat Hasan. Don’t worry if your not familiar with the myth, its not essential to the reading, but I would recommend a quick google post reading.
Sarvat has gone to some effort to emulate the Greek mythology experience. The story has three protagonist: Aida, Ehsan and a chorus of Aida’s fans, serving the dual purpose of filling us in with the story, as in classic Greek literature, and also sharing their observations. The book is divided into two acts, another nod to its origin story. There are plenty of Easter eggs for classics fans, from a cat called Agamemnon, references to Theseus and even Ehsan being a poet, amongst many others.
The story begins with the Chorus, theirs is a collective voice of intense and devoted Aida fans. Their interludes throughout the book are often nonlinear and in the first chapter they speak about Adia’s disappearance, her desire for privacy and her increasing popularity, setting up the “stage” for what is to follow. Aida, an increasingly famous musician, has arrived in London, a city she has proactively avoided due to her fear of crossing paths with an ex lover. Ehsan, the lover, has recently given up his job in publishing to focus more on his writing. As Aida’s fame increases, he has seen her feature in newspapers and magazines and heard her songs on the radio, recognising some of his own words in her lyrics. The Lovers reconnect and instantly fall back into the rhythm of their relationship, as an artist and her muse. Ehsan decides to join Aida on her latest tour and thus their relationship, and its old wounds, are split open.
Although this is primarily a love story, it also explores other relationships, specifically family. Aida is an only child of a single mother and we learn early on that this relationship is fraught with resentments. Aida knows her mother has given up everything to raise her, and wants to spend more time with her daughter, but Aida’s career demands she is often away. Although she still lives at home (something Ehsan scoffs at) and calls her mother every day, they have very surface level conversations and Aida rarely discloses anything about her life. Ehsan lives in London, away from his nuclear family who are all based in Karachi, He has a strained and difficult relationship with his parents and is mostly in contact with his sister. Aida and Ehsan also clash over these relationships, each begrudging the other for what they don’t have.
The second act of the book is set in Karachi and I have to confess, the introduction to Pakistan was something I was very much looking forward to. The story is about belonging, identity and love and the city of Karachi is the perfect backdrop to disappear into while searching for all of these. The sea is almost a character in itself and given how prominently it features in Greek mythology, this also felt like anther nod to the source material.
The Giant Dark is unlike the other Greek mythology retellings in that it is loosely based on a myth, its not actually the myth retold. If you’re looking for the Orpheus and Eurydice story, this is not it. It is however an intimate portrayal of lost love, of rekindled desires and of finding solace and comfort in another person while not fully understanding their needs and being too fearful to reach out.