Patrick Dillon’s Ithaca is a reimagining of The Odyssey. The majority of the narrative focusses upon storyline of Telemachus, who searches for his father Odysseus, who has failed to return from the Trojan War. Dillon imposes modern realism on the Homeric world, removing gods, creating strong female roles, and portraying many of the characters as damaged goods of one form or another. Odysseus is traumatised from his experiences in the war, Penelope has suffered from the stress of the suitors vying for her hand, and Telemachus is disillusioned with disappointment in the father who returns to him. Crucially, Dillon picks up on Homer’s original epic, where mythical stories of the cyclops, Circe, and the underworld were written from Odysseus own perspective. Dillon uses this to convey such stories as ‘wholly ridiculous’ and establishes Odysseus as a liar early in the book.
To make his narrative efficient, Dillon successfully streamlines some of the characters from the Odyssey to circumnavigate complex ancient Greek concepts such as guest-friendship and spear-friendship. Euryalus’ character absorbs Amphinomus to create a nuanced and calculating figure, whilst Telemachus’ bromance with Peisistratus is replaced by a compelling romance with Polycaste, Peisistratus' sister.
The book is divided into thirds, the first portraying Telemachus’ journey to Pylos and Sparta in search of his father. The second third looks at the washed-up war veteran Odysseus and his interactions with the Phaeacian people, whilst the third depicts Odysseus and his son regaining their home from the suitors.
It is a very entertaining read, but unfortunately the end is disappointing. Dillon strives to keep his narrative loosely tied to Homer’s original. Telemachus’ journey to mainland Greece, Odysseus’ narrative of his travels, and their battle with the troublesome suitors are artistically accurate to the source material. But in this coming-of-age novel, rather than trying to address Telemachus’ brutal killing of the maids in The Odyssey, Dillon seeks to protect his character's innocence, leaving Telemachus incapacitated by a wound during the purging of his household, severing the link to the original story. Though this leaves Telemachus unsullied, by averting rather than tackling the issue – as he had done so successfully with addressing Odysseus’ mythical encounters – Ithaca falls short of its potential.