Sunday, March 24, 2013

Review: Homer's Daughter by Robert Graves

Title: Homer's Daughter
Author: Robert Graves
Genre: Literary / Historical Fiction
Publisher: Academy Chicago
First published: 1955
Pages: 283

Rating: 5 out of 10

On the island of Sicily in the Ancient Greek empire, order has been overthrown. The kingdom's crown prince has disappeared while on a voyage at sea, and is now presumed dead, leaving the Princess Nausicaa next in line for the throne. Both her new status and her beauty have encouraged countless men to swarm the palace, all competing for Nausicaa's affection and her hand in marriage. To further the chaos, the king has impulsively embarked on a journey to find his lost son. Nausicaa, relying on her wits, schemes for a way to get out of marriage without angering her suitors, while finding solace in bard's tales of Odysseus and the discovery of a mysterious shipwrecked man named Aethon.

I love Robert Graves, and I, Claudius is one of my favorite books. I was so looking forward to returning to his world of Ancient kingdoms, complete with complex politics and plots and intrigues and alliances.

But Homer's Daughter wasn't at all like Claudius' story. Nothing of importance happens at first, and the story takes a long while to get started. And it was far more simplistic, while I had loved I, Claudius for its complexity.
Once Nausicaa finds Aethon, the story picks up a bit, and the storyline revolves more around the problem of the suitors. The former focus, which was on the lost prince, didn't seem to carry itself so well. The two do come together eventually, and I suppose that the solution to both problems was satisfying.

Graves' writing is a bit distant, with graceful poise. Here, his writing was not so much graceful as it was simply distant. I never felt that I got to know Nausicaa as I did Claudius, and other characters seemed to be hurriedly dismissed at simple, easy characterizations. Examples of these one-dimensional characters would be Ctimene, who is shallow and stupid, Eurymachus, who is "bad," and Aethon, who is "good."

I liked the parallels between the Odyssey that could be found in the story, such as Nausicaa's many suitors (like the men vying for Penelope in Odysseus' absence), or a man found washed upon the shore who is more or less imprisoned by a beautiful woman who falls in love with him.
The book had a mythological air to it in the way that it was told.

Robert Graves excitedly wrote this book after reading a theory by Samuel Butler about the author of the Odyssey being a female instead of the traditionally credited Homer. It is a very intriguing theory, and I would love to know more about it. There is a note before the book begins, which is about three pages, that I hoped to gather more information from.
However, it says little to nothing, simply that Graves has found evidence that he calls "irrefutable." A strong word. However, he goes on to casually throw out a handful of speculations, none of which present "irrefutable" evidence. I would have liked a better and more convincing approach to this story.

Nausicaa does not begin to compose her Odyssey until the book is nearly finished, and it seemed a bit rushed to me. Nausicaa had composed a few verses before, but nothing to lead us to suspect she was about to write one of the greatest epics of all time.