Lockdown recommendations: classics and retellings


When I came home for Christmas and saw my collection of Percy Jackson books sitting on my bookshelf, they reminded me of how much I enjoyed reading about Greek mythology. So, when lockdown began, I decided to dust off some old favorites and buy some new books to rekindle my love for mythology. Of those, three retellings have stood out to me.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Barker has crafted a powerful retelling of Homer’s The Iliad, through the eyes of a woman, filling the void that was lacking in a genre dominated by the male-perspective. Briseis is Achilles’ concubine and her position in society is perfect to bring forth the stories of all the women and girls who became collateral damage in the Trojan War. She recounts how the atrocities of the war impacted women, rendering them powerless and at the mercy of the men to be abused, raped and traded. 

Barker has crafted a powerful retelling.

The standout part of the novel, for me, was the parallel between male glory and the modest and unassertive presence of the women. Achilles is a very complex character in nature but having both Briseis and himself portray that character is very clever on Barker’s part. However, I did find it rather strange that Achilles, once again, was the most detailed and developed character in a novel that is supposed to focus on a woman’s perspective.

Overall, definitely one to read. I love this quote from the novel, and I think it perfectly summarizes the issue being tackled: ‘Men carve meaning into women’s faces; messages addressed to other men.’

Heroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Adventures by Stephen Fry

The companion novel to Fry’s Mythos is not as spectacular as Mythos but still does not disappoint. Fry wittily accounts the numerous retellings of the stories of your classic Greek heroes. His writing is vivid yet simple to understand as we follow the stories including those of Heracles, Jason and Oedipus. What I enjoyed most was that the rewriting was stripped back but maintained the essence of the narratives infused with Fry’s dry humor. 

The rewriting was stripped back but maintained the essence of the narratives.

Heroes is particularly suitable for those who are new to Greek mythology as condensing these major characters and their battles down into a limited number of pages means that the finer details are lacking. This works well if you’re looking for something fast-paced rather than the longer versions which can lean towards boring in parts. 

The book is easy to dip in and out of which works well if you want to fit some reading around a busy schedule, but it does give the novel a segregated feel. If Fry could somehow have connected the characters, it would have resulted in a much more cohesive and complete reading experience for binge readers like me. However, I still feel this is definitely worth a read.

Circe by Madeline Miller

Would this list be complete without a novel by Madeline Miller? After reading (and loving!) The Song of Achilles, I had high hopes for Circe, and it is safe to say that Miller did not disappoint. 

‘When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist’. The story is centered around Circe, daughter of the mighty god of the sun. Contrary to her father’s power and her mother’s allure, she possesses the strange power of witchcraft which leads to her banishment to a deserted island. 

Essentially, this is the story of a girl taking the cards life has dealt her into her stride.

It is absolutely impossible not to be completely enthralled and engaged with Miller’s writing, which beautifully captures Circe’s character. The narrative is expansive enough so as to not be limited solely to Circe, yet Circe and her voice still remain at the forefront of the story. I am completely in awe at how relatable the story Miller made Circe. Essentially, this is the story of a girl taking the cards life has dealt her into her stride in a world full of cruel men and an immoral society where beauty is the most valued possession a woman can have. I would highly recommend checking out Circe.

Image: Fleur via Unsplash

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