We know Seabrookers are readers because you’ve shared so many titles with us since we launched “Seabrookers Are Reading” in September 2019. Clearly, everyone is looking for good things to read. Please continue to send your titles to us. From time to time, we’ll supplement your suggestions with help from Linda Malcolm, of Indigo Books in Freshfields Village, who will periodically offer in-depth reviews of interesting books or share what is going on in the book world. She recently shared the following.
The Classics Revisited
First, there was Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles followed by her Circe (currently on The NY Times bestseller list). Both books look back to the Homerian sagas, The Iliad and The Odyssey, and expand on those tales to imagine a deeper story about the action and characters we know from the classic tales. Natalie Haynes’ new book, A Thousand Ships, follows that same basic pattern: a new look at an old story.
This time we once again revisit the Trojan War (hence the reference to Helen in the title) and take heed of Odysseus as he makes his ten-year journey home. The familiar heroes are here– Achilles, Hector, Ajax, Odysseus, Agamemnon—as Haynes incorporates stories not only from The Iliad and The Odyssey but also other classical sagas from Euripides and Aeschylus. But the main characters and main action of this novel does not revolve around the men and their heroic exploits, but around the women—wives, daughters, goddesses, sisters, even an Amazon—and the harsh effect these long wars and aftermath had on them.
The premise of the novel is that a classic poet (such as Homer) is sitting down to write the women’s saga and is being advised and prodded by Calliope, Muse of Epic Poetry. Calliope is, in fact, one of my favorite characters as she pops in now and again to urge the poet on while bewailing his lack of progress and coveting a decorative brooch he has. Calliope is only one of the goddesses or near deities that appear—and they are not necessarily god-like.
Another of my favorite characters is the ever-patient Penelope, sitting at home for twenty years while the war is fought and Odysseus wanders. Aside from tending to home matters, weaving and unweaving, she hears of her husband’s exploits by way of traveling bards who spread tales of the meanderings, and she writes letters to Odysseus–questioning, sometimes scathing letters—as she rebuffs suitors and keeps on weaving.
I truly enjoyed this book, not only for the fun of recognizing bits of reading from my college classics courses but the story itself is engaging. And the Afterword is terrific!
-Linda Malcolm, Indigo Books, Guest Columnist