Penelope’s Web

Written by Christopher Rush
Review by Alan Fisk

This is a new retelling of the Trojan War, centred on the character of Odysseus, and narrated in three different voices: Odysseus himself; his faithful wife, Penelope, left at home on the island of Ithaca; and an anonymous third-person authorial voice.

There is no need to lay out the plot here. You know the story, or you ought to. The illicit elopement of Paris with the married Helen sets off the Trojan War, and hostilities commence when the first Greek ships run up the beach on a fierce rip tide (in the Aegean?). Two things distinguish this Trojan War novel from others. First of all, there are direct interventions by the gods of Olympus at critical moments. I wasn’t sure how seriously we are supposed to take the role of the gods, and whether or not this novel should be classified as historical fantasy. Secondly, there is a constant stream of foul language, which rapidly becomes as wearying as reading a novel in some heavy dialect. Perhaps this is meant to represent how soldiers talk all the time (which they don’t), but it reads more like an elderly academic author trying to show how butch he is.

The section on Odysseus’ return and revenge is surprisingly long, but it works, and provides more interest than a simple return, dispatch of suitors, and happy reunion with Penelope would have been. It was also a surprise that ships can be blown off course by 300 degrees (in circa 1200 B.C., about 3,000 years before the invention of the compass?). I would have liked to hear more of Penelope’s voice. In spite of its defects this is an exciting read, although as Trojan War novels go I still prefer George Shipway’s King in Splendour.