Winterson's work is always beguiling, and here she proves that often, less is more, especially with a story that she emphasizes again and again has been told before. She wants to tell the story again, and this might be the best retelling of them all.
Atlas, a titan among the Titans, has been sentenced to hold the weight of the world on his immensely strong shoulders for pretty much the whole of time. (Time being relative and unimportant in the long view, we might as well say he must carry the world for all eternity.) He spends his time reflecting on past loves, past mistakes, and, of course, the weight. One day, though, a reprieve comes in an unlikely form: Herakles.
Winterson's Herakles is as un-Kevin Sorboish as one can imagine. He's a drunken, oversexed oaf with an Oedipal fixation on his beautiful stepmother, Hera. (He is also by far the funniest and most lively character in this novella.) He's getting close to the end of his Twelve famous Labors, and he needs Atlas's help. In return, Herakles will hold up the world for just one day.
You probably know how the myth ends. After all, we don't talk about how Herakles shoulders the weight of all Creation, now do we? But then what happened, when Atlas took up his burden again?
Winterson does bring the story into the 20th century, although this is not precisely a "modern retelling" as the jacket description would have you believe. She brings an intriguing twist into the story that, as a devoted dog-person, had me smiling for about a week.
For any fan of Jeanette Winterson, classical lit, history, dog-lovers, and sufferers of Atlas-complexes, this book is a must-have.