McLaren, Clemence. Waiting for Odysseus. Atheneum, 2004. ISBN 978-0689867057 160 pp. $6.99
Four women retell The Odyssey through their relationships with Odysseus in this historical fiction piece. McLaren introduces Penelope, the faithful wife who fell for her warrior husband at first sight; Circe, the seductive siren who kept him captive for years; Athena, the goddess who favored him, and Eurycleia, his nursemaid.
Impressively, each voice is distinct. Athena is done particularly well, with just the right degree of arrogance and benevolence befitting a goddess. She is a master at manipulation. Circe uses sex as her weapon, and Penelope was just pathetic. The issue of Odyssus’ infidelities is never addressed, and Penelope becomes an icon as a patient, faithful, and unquestioning wife. Such a view serves to subjugate women. Granted, this is historical fiction, and perhaps historically, culturally accurate, but it is frustrating that such gross inequality between the sexes is still touted as ideal.
The story itself is frustrating, because McLaren leaves out the good parts in the retelling. Perhaps women may not have embellished upon the gory details, but to skip over the battle scenes and skim over the Trojan War makes the book devoid of any excitement and alienates many adventure fans.
McLaren did a wonderful job with Inside the Walls of Troy: A novel of the women who lived the Trojan War. The characters were real, had some power, and were sympathetic. The point of the McLaren’s work is to make ancient Greece more accessible to today’s students; while the details of culture and history are excellent, Waiting for Odysseus is a disappointment overall.