As anyone who follows this blog will know, I’m challenging myself this August with the Classical Read Along, hosted by the very lovely Jean over at BookishThoughts on youtube. So the first half of the month is focusing on Greek literature, in this case Homer’s The Odyssey.
The edition I’m reviewing is the Penguin Clothbound Classics edition, translated by E. V. Rieu (revised by D. C. Rieu). Which is, of course, beautiful to look at (always a pro)!
I really don’t even know where to begin with this review. It is such a vast book. My main issue with it was the translation I had – something I didn’t realise until I flicked through previews of the Lattimore and Fagles’ translations. This translation is prose, which I do generally prefer, however it felt quite clunky in places and I feel I probably would have benefited from actually reading a verse translation. That being said, once I identified the problem I feel that I threw myself in to it more and enjoyed it more – which sounds a little crazy! I think I will possibly invest in the Kindle edition of the verse translation to read in the future, simply to compare the two and see if my enjoyment of the story overall was indeed impacted on something as simple(?) as the translation I read. It would be interesting to see!
I had in my head that this was a 1000 page epic, and while it was epic and quite a task to read, it was only 320-something pages long, in a reasonably fair font size. It is the story of Odysseus as he tries to make his way home after fighting in the Trojan war. Escaping Calypso, he reccounts the events that have lead him up to this point – braving Charybdis, Scylla, Circe and Polyphemus the cyclops along the way. However, in the meantime, his wife faces the pressure of suitors who are eating her out of house and home, want to marry her and kill her son. Standard Greek epic (based on my limited knowledge of Greek epics). I shan’t go over every part of the plot as there are many better reviews than what I can give on the structure and actual story – google is your friend for that!
I really got in to it at around page 200 – from there it seemed a lot more fast paced, I think I also settled in to the writing style itself. I could scarcely put it down! Odysseus being back in Ithaca, Telemachus returning and all the action that followed really seemed to click more with me than everything prior (which was, in the majority, a recounting of what had already happened – often I found myself feeling lost in quotes (as Odysseus tells of his exile, there is a lot of quoting within his retelling, which I found myself getting mighty confused with at times!)) The back half of the book I read in about a day. The first half took a week. I think that says something!
When I approached the last book/chapter – I didn’t want to read it because, while it had been a slog, I felt like I was going to be missing something if I finished the book. Not only because I’ve been carrying a bloody great, clothbound book about with me for the best part of 10 days, but because this book finally hit me. The characters, the story, it all just clicked and I didn’t want to be without it. However, the actual final chapter was a bit disjointed (whether or not, as has been predicted, it was actually not written by Homer) but I feel I got the ending I wanted. It was by no means perfect, but it was good.
I’m so glad I’m part of this read-along. I’m so glad I approached this book, surrounded by other people who are in the exact same position as me – it made the actual reading far less daunting. Overall, I think this book deserves 4.5/5 – it truly is a masterful piece of work (clearly more than just little old me think this, given that it’s in print 2000+ years after it was actually written).
Now, time to read The Penelopiad having read this. I’m thinking it’ll be good! I think knowing the full story of Odysseus I think it will be a lot more enjoyable than it was 4 years ago when I had very little knowledge of the story it was based upon!