Review: The War at Troy

Title: The War at Troy
Author: Lindsay Clarke
Publication: 2004 by Thomas Dunne Books
Format: Hardcover

Book Synopsis

Vigorous new life is breathed into the myth’s of Homer’s Iliad in Lindsay Clarke’s new dramatic retelling of the wars fought for the Bronze Age City of Troy. Paris and Helen, Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, Achilles, Odysseus and Hector are skilfully rejuvenated in this startlingly contemporary drama of the passions. “The people who lived in those days were closer to gods than we are, and great deeds and marvels were commoner then, which is why the stories we have from them are nobler and richer than our own. So that those stories should not pass from the earth, I have decided to set down everything I know of the stories of the war at Troy — of the way it began, of the way it was fought, and of the way in which it was ended.” These words, Phemius the bard of Ithaca and friend to Odysseus, opens Lindsay Clarke’s compelling new retelling of the myths and legends that grew up around the war that was fought for the Bronze Age city of Troy and have magnetized the imagination of the world ever since. Here are the tales of two powerful generations of men and women, living out their destinies in the timeless zone where myth and history intersect and where the conflicts of the human heart are mirrored by quarrels among immortal gods. Peleus and Thetis, Paris and Helen, Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, Achilles, Odysseus and Hector — all are given vigorous new life in a version of their stories which remains faithful to the mythic form in which they first appeared yet engages the reader in a startlingly contemporary drama of the passions. THE WAR AT TROY speaks to a world still racked by violent conflict in ways which address important aspects of our own experience while at the same time providing imaginative access to the rich store of mythology which is our heritage from the ancient world.

What I Thought About It . . .
Sometime I am going to say enough with the books about the Trojan War… But anyway I think I was a bit wary of this book for a long time. I found it on the used shelf at a bookshop. I was expecting something else and then when I’m reading it, it’s told from the perspective of Odysseus’s bard as the events were told to him? What? So it has sat on the shelf for a long time after I perused the first couple of paragraphs.

Yet I decided to go ahead and read it since I did have it on the shelf. If I got a little more into it and didn’t like it I could always quit. However, to my delightful surprise I ended up getting absorbed into the narrative. After that prologue the rest of the novel reads much like a history, one might presume. You forget that a single individual is narrating because there is very little evidence of a first person perspective. Yet it is a history that fails to be dry or dull. I like the prose style due to the sometimes beautiful elegance. It does seek to show some of the famous legends of the time in a new light, such as how Odysseus was really lured into coming to Troy despite the omens.

One of the things that I liked the best about this book in comparison to the other books of the Trojan War that I have read so far is the portrayal of Achilles. I must be honest with myself and point out that it is my favorite up to this point. Achilles doesn’t have a major role in this novel, but he is shown to be the creation of what the world wanted him to be: a killer when he bore the same skills in healing that he presently employed in butchery. While I still don’t like that he killed Hector, I don’t dislike him elsewhere in the novel. One disappointment was how little actual page time that Hector received though. I mean, he’s the ideal image of your perfect hero, the champion of the city of Troy, so why not give him more of a role in the narrative except as a sacrificial lamb? All the characters portrayed receive interesting depth. Paris is shown to experience such anguish knowing that he lusts for Helen of Sparta even though Menelaus proved to be such a faithful friend to the Trojan prince, and the inevitable betrayal lies heavy on his heart.

The strange thing about this book is the pace. Paris doesn’t even spirit Helen away until the middle of the book. The first nine years of the war are covered in the span of one page length. You receive a lot of backstory as to the cause of the conflict, and then the famous events that transpired during the last year that people are familiar with from reading Homer’s epic and other classical sources.

So needless to say, this title will remain on my bookshelf as I cull through unwanted titles during spring cleaning. Isn’t it funny how books you don’t think will end up being any good end up really great in the end?

I found that Clarke wrote a sequel to this called The Return from Troy. Oh, I would like to read it very much! Apparently I am unable to acquire it from my public library’s ILL system so I would have to buy it. However, I enjoyed the first book so much that I wouldn’t mind doing so. Yes, I want more Odysseus, but then again, who doesn’t?



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