PositiveThe London Review of BooksThe central characters themselves are fully alive, and each story shows that race is only one element in their sense of themselves as people apart ... Packer can be very funny, making us see and laugh at the gulf between our expectations, prejudices or rhetoric, and reality ... At her best, Packer combines her political vision with an impressive lightness of touch ... She shows her range not by depicting people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, as Zadie Smith does, but by exploring the complexity of the black experience ... Packer’s stories express a deep mistrust of communal action. Her central characters are never team players ... The most difficult problem raised by the collection is the tension between Packer’s intense individualism and her equally intense commitment to black civil rights ... The deliberate solitude of Packer’s central characters can sometimes make them seem merely brattish. Their world excludes love, friendship, even affection; their fragile sense of self can be maintained only by keeping other people out.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThe title of his new work, Metamorphica, nods to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and Ovid bookends the collection ... Mason’s central theme: Where we may expect to find meaning, there is none. The lesson can feel profound or sophomoric, depending on how much patience you have for this kind of thing ... Mason takes the memorable female characters of classical myth—goddesses, prophets, rape victims, noble heroines, killers of family members, witches, Amazons, adulteresses and athletes—and turns them into ciphers ... he also reduces female agency to more or less nothing ... Mason’s male characters live almost equally meaningless lives ... Zeus is a serial rapist, and Mason provides disturbingly lyrical descriptions of his abusive pleasure ... The Greek myths, in Mason’s hands, are...a vast set of items to collect and catalog, offering glimpses of a pattern, and a bleakly comforting escape from the world of feelings and human beings.
RaveThe GuardianPat Barker’s brilliant new novelistic retelling of The Iliad puts the experience of women like Andromache at the heart of the story ... Barker’s novel has a very clear feminist message about the struggle for women to extricate themselves from male-dominated narratives. In the hands of a lesser writer, it could have felt preachy. The attempt to provide Briseis with a happy ending is thin, and sometimes the female characters’ legitimate outrage seems a bit predictable ... One wonders if any woman in archaic Greece, even a former queen, would have quite the self-assurance of Barker’s Briseis. But, of course, there is no way to be sure: no words from women in this period survive but Barker is surely right to paint them as thoughtful, diverse, rounded human beings, whose humanity hardly ever dawns on their captors, owners and husbands. This central historical insight feels entirely truthful ... This is an important, powerful, memorable book that invites us to look differently not only at The Iliad but at our own ways of telling stories about the past and the present, and at how anger and hatred play out in our societies ... Barker’s novel is an invitation to tell those forgotten stories, and to listen for voices silenced by history and power.
RaveThe GuardianThe book shows us how his desire to become a classicist was shaped in part by the desire to please his difficult father (who regretted abandoning his high school study of Latin), and how he shares some of his father’s need to be always right. Most powerfully, Mendelsohn contrasts his account of Homer with his father’s more critical response ... The book also explores how stories and shared memories help people to form deep connections with one another across time. It gives a vivid picture of Mendelsohn’s anger, anxieties and embarrassments about his father – a man wary of hugs, reluctant to praise and stubbornly set in his ways ... Memoirs about reading are an interesting hybrid, located somewhere between criticism and personal recollection. An Odyssey is a stellar contribution to the genre – literary analysis and the personal stories are woven together in a way that feels both artful and natural ... An Odyssey is a thoughtful book from which non-classicists will learn a great deal about Homer. At its core, it is a funny, loving portrait of a difficult but loving parent: a 'much-turning man.'