The Gift - Lewis Hyde

his examples serve as a fascinating survey of human myth-making

Book Review by RJ Thomson | 12 Nov 2006
It is with some trepidation that the reviewer passes judgement over 'The Gift'. The book, a consideration of the creative impetus within all of us, and the ways in which this creativity is opposed to the rationalising forces of commerce, is already regarded as a recent classic. As such it has been praised by literary figures from Atwood to Zadie. Further, the value judgements inherent in reviewing put one in danger of integrating oneself into the very system of commodification Hyde so stylishly unravels.

For the most part 'The Gift' is beautifully balanced, with a fluid style that eases the reader through what are, frequently, fresh ways of looking at ancient 'truths'. However, the degree of rigour at work varies, beneath this surface. The way Hyde assumes his readings of folk tales are an unquestionable short cut to the deeper machinations of the psyche out-stretches full credibility, though his examples serve as a fascinating survey of human myth-making. More illuminating are his etymological observations, drawing attention, as he manages to do, to links between 'virtue', 'virility', Sanskrit, the Bible, and the essential transience of 'the Gift'.

To those who care passionately about making things, and the imagination, 'The Gift' can seem to lack the fiery inspiration associated with its subject matter. In terms of tone, insight, and a very straight-talking kind of 'wit', it will satisfy even the most contemplative reader. [RJ Thomson]
The Gift' is published by Canongate. Out now. Cover Price £15.00 hardback.