Monday, August 07, 2006

Simon Armitage, "Homer's Odyssey"

In a book that is as yet only available in England, Simon Armitage recasts the Odyssey as a radio play and hence entirely in dialogue. Even though the book was a BBC commission, it is vivid and riveting from start to finish. Odysseus's telling of his story to the Phaeacians is handled beautifully, with the dialogues switching back and forth between those in the stories Odysseus tells and those between Odysseus and his listeners. But the book's best sections are the dialogues between Athena and an entirely memorable Zeus: the king of the gods comes across as a wonderful ironist:

When we send eagles
to signal our thoughts in the sky,
what do they do -- stand and point and stare,
like ... birdwatchers!


At least they don't live forever, like us. My memory --
it's like a museum. Infinite rooms, covered in dust.


I find it doesn't do to look down too much like that.
Gives one a bad neck.

As I looked back through the book to find some good passages to cite, I discovered that after about halfway through the book, I stopped underlining things. That could be a bad sign (fewer quotable passages later in the book?), but it usually means that I got so caught up in the story and its telling that I stopped thinking about finding quotable quotes! And this is, of course, a fabulous story, which Armitage tells in a fresh and exciting way.


mrjumbo said...

I've been following your reviews of verse novels with some interest, so I have to ask: Is the review of the Homer rendition meant to be a verse novel review, or is it just a review of an interesting text?

Andrew Shields said...

Borderline. Definitely an interesting text, but I am not sure whether one could call the book a verse novel. But I don't really want to go there: it does not matter to me, really, what a verse novel is (even though I have read one self-described "verse novella" that seems to me to be misclassified). What matters is that a "verse novel" be written in verse and be a narrative -- which Armitage's Odyssey clearly is. But it is also an adaption, not a revision, of Homer, so it is not really a free-standing novel (the way, say, Joyce's Ulysses is a revision of Homer, not just an adaption).