Sulari Gentill’s first book A Few Right Thinking Men recently made the regional shortlist in the category South East Asia and Pacific Best First Book for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. This is a wonderful achievement for Sulari and a further sign — as if Peter Temple’s Truth winning a spate of awards in 2010 wasn’t enough — that the literary merits of crime fiction are being taken seriously.
But the über-talented Ms Gentill isn’t stopping at crime writing. Her second novel, due to be released 7 March 2011, reflects her first passion: ancient Greek myth.
Chasing Odysseus is a re-telling of Homer’s classic story The Odyssey through the eyes of four members of a family of Herdsmen, who from their homeland on Mount Ida supplied the Trojans with food during the ten year siege of the city by Odysseus and his Greek forces. The four young people — the brothers Machaon, Cadmus and Lycon and their sister Hero — were raised by the Herdsman Agelaus after being rejected by their Amazon mothers, the boys because the Amazons could not love sons, and Hero because her short-sightedness made her a liability for the war-like tribe of women.
When the walls of Troy are breached by the Greeks, the Herdsman are falsely accused by the Trojans of having betrayed them. Agelaus is killed and Machaon badly beaten. The only person who knows the truth behind how the Greeks managed to invade Troy is the Greek King Odysseus, who has set already sail for home.
Hell bent on proving the innocence of the Herdsmen and clearing their father’s name, Hero and her brothers chase Odysseus on his epic journey, aiming to extract the truth from him about what really happened in Troy.
Each chapter of Chasing Odysseus opens with an extract from The Odyssey. For those like me who’ve never read the original, these extracts provide the context for the re-telling by the Herdsmen and their sister as they travel in Odysseus’ wake. Many characters — specifically monsters — in the story are familiar, leaching as they do from ancient Greek myth into metaphors, idioms, popular culture. The Cyclops, the Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis — the original ‘rock and a hard place’. But even without the recognition, there is more than enough excitement and adventure to carry the reader along in a story that surges forward like the Phaeacian ship gifted to Hero and her brothers by the god Pan to aid them in their quest for justice.
Chasing Odysseus is a world away from 1930 Sydney, the setting for Sulari’s debut novel, though the strongest relationships in both books are among brothers. The relationship between Rowland Sinclair and his brother Wilfred in A Few Right Thinking Men is fraught but affectionate. In Chasing Odysseus, the brothers Mac, Cad and Ly love their sister even while making fun of her piety, but their loyalty to each other is passionate. As characters, they are impossible not to like.
Chasing Odysseus is a highly entertaining read aimed at a young adult market. But the more I read of the ‘young adult’ genre, the more I believe it is so-called to keep the delights of books like Chasing Odysseus a secret from us over-18s. The novel is a wonderful primer for those new to the ancient Greek myths and an imaginative new take for those who know the ropes. It is the first in the Hero Trilogy, the sequel to which the prolific Sulari already has in the pipeline, together with the second (and third) Rowland Sinclair novels.
Oh, and that’s not the actual cover in the above photo. I’m showing off the fact that I got an advance copy from Sulari last time we got together on a writers’ panel. Head on down to your local bookshop to see the final cover design for yourself. And buy the book. You won’t regret it.
This review has been submitted as part of the Aussie Author Challenge.
**Update 11 March 2011: This review has been cited in the Tumut and Adelong Times.**