There is already a plethora of retellings of Homer’s The Odyssey for young people, though thankfully Ithaka doesn’t claim to add to these. The story is told from the point of view of Odysseus’ wife Penelope, left alone for over ten years, stubbornly resisting rumours that her husband is dead, and pressure from others to find Ithaka another king. Interwoven with her story are the lives of those who surround her in her palace, most importantly Klymene, Penelope’s maid, and her twin brother Ikarios.
As in Geras’ Troy, the romantic lives of her characters are bound up in complex love triangles, and the themes of unrequited love and jealousy run rife. Also similarly to Troy, the Gods walk amongst the mortals freely, either wreaking havoc or protecting the humans respectively.
Geras writes beautifully, and as ever, engagingly. The plot is fast-moving and dramatic and the characters are well-drawn and easy to sympathise with. The only problem I had with this novel is a strong sense of d’j’ vu. Echoes of Troy resonate through the narrative, the characters, and the plot, to the extent that you start to wonder if you are in fact reading the same book, simply told from a different perspective, and in a different setting.
Setting this aside, the novel stands alone as a highly accomplished and thought-provoking work, and an incentive for more dedicated readers to proceed on to Homer’s Odyssey.