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Adele Geras
David Fickling Books
Oct 2005
Anything from the David Fickling YA stable is likely to be substantial, well-written and worth a lot more than a glance. The 400-page Ithaka lives up to these expectations: and yet, for all the brain fodder it offers, all the drama, the big human questions and the beautifully-crafted language, one can�t help wondering how many teenagers will really go for this.

The story is one of waiting. Long years of waiting for Odysseus, who left to fight the war against Troy, to find his way back home, via Cyclops, sirens and the rest. (I hadn�t read Troy, the first of these two volumes, and it�s many years since any scanty contact with The Odyssey, but that didn�t prove significant). Penelope, Odysseus� wife and queen of Ithaka, is struggling to remain true to her husband, to believe in his survival, and to keep all ready - herself most of all - for his eventual return. To a greater or lesser extent, the royal servants and the whole of the island do likewise. Clearly the memory of Odysseus, the tales of his heroism and the need for a king have left a long shadow over the island, even affecting those who were no more than babies when their lord left. The goddess Pallas Athene adds to Penelope�s straitjacket of duty and faith by telling her that 'as long as you are here, unchanged and unchanging, he will come to no harm'. To this end, the queen spends endless hours at her loom, weaving the images of her husband�s adventures and of his ship always heading for home. Meanwhile the hero�s ancient dog, Argos, pads around the place and dreams also of his master returning, whilst Telemachus, Odysseus� son returns again and again to the armoury to take down his father�s massive hunting bow and marvel at it.

Yet the nature of life is change, and as time goes on, the strain of the waiting becomes a curse to the islanders. Soon, many are arguing that Penelope should declare her husband dead and marry again. The queen herself is emotionally and physically unfulfilled and restless, and the palace starts to fill up with a rabble of violent and unsavoury suitors, bringing chaos and disorder. As with a Shakespearean comedy, the idyll of Ithaka becomes tainted and corrupted by misunderstanding, deception, doubt: the reader can only wonder whether order is ever to be restored.

Much of the tale is told through the eyes and the growing pains of Klymene, the queen�s maidservant, and this is its strength, for the loves and losses of the younger characters around the palace are often the most touching and immediate. As a whole, however, there is a distance, a lack of either an emotional hook or a compelling, urgent story, that mars the narrative. Add that to the air of gloom that prevails � 'How much wickedness there was in the world. It was a wonder people found even a small amount of happiness in the midst of all the anguish' - and we are firmly in the realm of Greek tragedy, where the gods have their sport of poor mortals. For those who desire such a read, you couldn�t do better.

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Ithaka was also reviewed by Abbie Todd on November 2nd
[Response from PC: Quite true!]

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This page contains a single entry by Patrick Cave published on November 10, 2005 10:39 AM.

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