Book Review: Arcadian Nights

John Spurling ~ Arcadian Nights


Taking as his starting point many of the famous tourist sites in the Peloponnese, where the stories are set, John Spurling, winner of the 2015 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, freshly imagines key narratives from the Greek canon, including tales of the doomed house of Atreus (notably Agamemnon, leader of the Greeks at Troy, murdered by his wife in his palace bathroom); of the god Apollo; goddess Athene; Theseus, scourge of the Minotaur; the Twelve Labours of Heracles; and Perseus, rescuer of Andromeda. 


Greek mythology seems to have had a resurgence recently with all manner of retellings everywhere. So far I’ve not been particularly impressed, as a lot of the ‘feminist’ retellings are quite the opposite…

However, as a self-confessed mythology nerd I think I know them too well and expect more from a new interpretation.

Spurling’s retellings are quite discreet and more like the ones I remember as a child. He adds in a lot of anecdotes from his own life living in Arcadia which injects a bit of present day into the stories, reminding us that these are real places.

We meet Apollo, Agamemnon, Elektra and more… seeing them come to life with acts of heroism, cannibalism and incest.

It’s an enjoyable read but quite heavy – possibly not one for those who know nothing about Greek mythology. The timeline jumps back and forth, making it quite confusing and it also feels a bit overwritten at times.

While I am used to a more academic writing style, it won’t be for everyone, and many will struggle to engage with the stories which is a shame.

For those in the know, I highly recommend, but if you’re a mythology novice, perhaps choose a different version.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Book from Duckworth Books and Insta Book Tours. Opinions my own.

For creative book and theatre reviews, visit @Paradise_Library on Instagram.

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