This book was chosen as our monthly book for the E17 Book Club in May. It is not a book I had heard of, or even would have picked up, but that’s what being part of a book club is all about, isn’t it?
As the title suggest, it takes its inspiration from Homer’s The Odyssey, and is a re-imagining by American-born (but now Oxford-based) author Zachary Mason – I think this is his debut.
It’s rather a compact book at just 240 pages (one of the reasons it won a vote at Book Club – it also had a pretty cover!), but is made up of 44 stories.
These stories take various parts of the original story and tell them from a fresh perspective, often the same part of the story (Odysseus returning home to Ithaca and Penelope) – for example in one, the place is deserted, in another, Penelope and his family grow far older than him.
Overall, I quite liked the book, but with 44 stories, I found it was a little hit and miss. The chapters I really enjoyed were the ones that were a little longer (eg, they build a fortified town but build it downwards rather than upwards, or where Odysseus meets himself) as some of the shorter ones I thought “What was the point of that? Am I missing something?”
Overall, I think I probably WAS missing something, as I have never actually read The Odyssey (but then who actually has?). Most of my knowledge of the story came from short excerpts and (more likely) Ulysses 31 (although there is no robot called Nono in this book, and the catchy but trashy 80s theme tune playing in my head rather jarred with the flowery, poetic language that I was reading!)
One of my fellow Book Clubbers actually managed to find a good translation of The Odyssey which is actually scripts by Simon Armitage from a Radio 4 play, so FAR easier to read, and it sounds like it added a lot to his experience of the book. I may well give it a go!
I enjoyed the old-fashioned style – but then I have always liked Greek Mythology stories etc and this felt a very similar style. I just wish that there had been more of an overall story, as it would have made it easier to follow.
The next book we will be reading for Book Club is The Elegance Of The Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.