In spite of the obvious and hardly original gender-bending, this is quite a good take on Homer, cleverly conceived and...



A debut novel (in verse, no less) by poet and archivist Rawlings, who takes up where the Odyssey leaves off and tells things from Penelope’s point of view.

When Odysseus finally gets home to Penelope after the Trojan War, the reunion, in Homer’s version, is a joyful one, naturally. In Rawlings’s account, however, it contains an extra surprise (or two) that Homer never included: namely, twin daughters whom Odysseus has never met before. The girls, Nerianne and Ailanthis, were born not long after Odysseus left for the war, and they’re now young women of astonishing beauty, possessed also of exceptional grace and insight. Their mother, solicitous of their futures, wants to know what fate holds in store for them so that they may live in peace and contentment—and the best way to find out is to consult an oracle. Odysseus is reluctant to let them go, but when his son Telemachos is badly injured in a hunting accident, he consents and agrees to a pilgrimage on behalf of his son as well as his daughters. So Penelope sets off with Nerianne, Ailanthus, and some of their devoted retainers on a journey to the oracle of Pytho. The trip becomes a mirror image of Odysseus’s wanderings in the Odyssey, mother and daughters battling through a variety of hardships (not the least being an attack of Amazons) in order to attain their quest, propitiate the gods, and save the honor of their house. And they return to Ithaka in the end, showing that epic quests can have heroines as well as heroes.

In spite of the obvious and hardly original gender-bending, this is quite a good take on Homer, cleverly conceived and nicely written in noble cadences that are intentionally (and accurately) reminiscent of Lattimore’s Homeric translations.

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-56792-206-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Godine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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