This month’s Book Addiction feature is Ithaca by Patrick Dillon. The novel is based on Homer’s Odyssey, but from the point of view of Telemachus, his son.
As soon as I saw that hook, I snatched this book up. I love Greek legends. Far too many random books on Greek mythology are stacked on my bookshelf, and I once startled everyone in a meeting at my decidedly non-writing-related day job by being the only one who could not only pronounce Sisyphus, but knew exactly who he was. (I like to think it was impressive but it was probably just weird). Since I am quite familiar with The Odyssey, I didn’t expect a ton of surprises in this story. Rather, I thought it would be like running into old friends. And it was. Every time a familiar character entered a scene, I excitedly gripped the book tighter, enjoying the happy flash of recognition. New characters won my affection too, including Nestor’s daughter, a clever and fierce girl who’s skilled with a sword. Indeed, she is the first to teach Telemachus to fight.
I was also drawn to this book because I thought Telemachus’s side of the story would be interesting. In The Odyssey, much of the focus is on Odysseus and his exciting adventures. Telemachus’s trials are less wild and thrilling, but not easier, by any means. Growing up without a father, he never learned any of the warrior’s arts, and struggles the condescension and occasional abuse of the suitors and his helplessness to protect his mother.
Ithaca richly illuminates the complicated relationships between the characters, particularly providing depth to the one between Odysseus and Telemachus. It goes beyond a father-son bond – after all, they hardly knew each other – and their arcs provide a certain symmetry. Odysseus’s prolonged voyage home, and Telemachus’s disordered journey to manhood mirror each other in some ways. They both struggle to fit into the roles required of them, to find where they fit. It’s difficult for them to coexist, in fact. Even though Telemachus spent years dreaming of his father returning to evict the callous suitors, his return displaces Telemachus as the potential leader within the household, and Ithaca. The tension between the two of them kept me turning the pages feverishly.
Fortunately, Telemachus is not without resources or options. During his travels through Greece, searching for news of his father, he grows into a greater sense of confidence and skill. Away from the violence of the invasion of the suitors, he begins to flourish. It’s a satisfying character arc.
I also enjoyed the interpretation of the relationship between Menelaus and Helen, whose legendary beauty is still evident. After the Trojan War, to say it would be complicated is an understatement, and their dialogue is full of nuance.
Give this book a read if you share my love for Greek mythology, or if you’re looking for a story that combines equal parts action and rich characterization.
From the jacket description:
In the tumultuous aftermath of the Trojan War, a young man battles to save his home and his inheritance. Setting out to find his father, he ends up discovering himself.
Telemachus’s father, Odysseus, went off to war before he was born … and never came back. Aged sixteen, Telemachus finds himself abandoned, his father’s house overrun with men pursuing his beautiful mother, Penelope, and devouring the family’s wealth. He determines to leave Ithaca, his island home, and find the truth. What really happened to his father? Was Odysseus killed on his journey home from the war? Or might he, one day, return to take his revenge?
Telemachus’s journey takes him across the landscape of bronze-age Greece in the aftermath of the great Trojan war. Veterans hide out in the hills. Chieftains, scarred by war, hoard their treasure in luxurious palaces. Ithaca re-tells Homer’s famous poem, The Odyssey, from the point of view of Odysseus’ resourceful and troubled son, describing Odysseus’s extraordinary voyage from Troy to the gates of hell, and Telemachus’s own journey from boyhood to the desperate struggle that wins back his home … and his father.