The story of the fall of Troy is baked into Western culture. As I read this book I was reminded of so many other cultural artefacts built on the same foundation.
In my head I could hear Sinead O’Connor wailing “there is no other Troy for you to burn”. I remembered reading The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri Tepper in my teens, where the women of this future dystopia ritually perform Iphigenia at Ilium each year, a reminder of the price that men’s wars demand of women, and the lies men tell themselves to obscure this price. There was no deer.
As I read on, I remembered more recent fictional retellings. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller. These were books I found myself immersed in, as fully realised people lived through the story that has survived for thousands of years.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that I found Fry’s retelling frustrating. Like Mythos and Heroes, he tells the story well, but with a scholar’s distance. There are lots of footnotes reminding you of who’s who, who they are related to, what earlier deeds are relevant. These are backed up by an extensive index and detailed list of characters. There is some humour, as to be expected from Fry. But overall the tone is of an Oxbridge chap raised on the Classics retelling the story to a younger version of himself, which is very much not me.
And “The End” comes so abruptly. After lengthy digressions of minor doings of minor characters, the city falls in twelve short pages, including another digression and foreshadowing of Fry’s next book, a retelling of the Odyssey.
I was left wanting to know so much more about the people of Troy. Especially the women. I think I’ll go read some more feminist fictional retellings. But I’ll probably read Fry’s next book, if it’s on sale like this was. It can be useful to have the bare story all laid out with footnotes, to provide a foundation for something more engaging.