The Song of Troy – by Colleen McCullough
Although I certainly knew of Colleen Mcullough, I had never read any of her novels. To be honest, I suppose I associated her with the “Thorn Birds” TV mini-series, something which I didn’t much care for. It’s always a mistake to judge any author by a film or TV adaptation of their work of course, and I didn’t do this consciously.
Anyway, on an extended business trip to India, I found myself without anything to read (and no English TV channels in my accommodation). Fortunately I managed to get hold of a much used and somewhat tatty copy of Colleen McCullough’s “The First Man In Rome” – and I’m glad that I did. Not only did it help me to pass the time on a boring business trip, but it made me realise the mistake I had made in ignoring Ms McCullough’s writing.
I went on to read all of the books in “The Masters of Rome” series, but not before I got hold of a copy of “The Song of Troy”, which I also enjoyed hugely. I recently re-read it on my Kindle (which I wish had existed when I was travelling around in India) and enjoyed it every bit as much the second time around.
Originally recounted by Homer in “The Iliad”, the tale of Troy is thousands of years old. It’s a story which has been told and retold by countless authors over the years, and it has had the Hollywood treatment on several occasions as well. Everyone knows, or thinks they know, the story of the wooden horse and those cunning Greeks who bore gifts.
Colleen McCullough elects to tell the tale in the first person, but she switches from one character to another from chapter to chapter. All of the key characters; Helen, Achilles, Paris, Odysseus, Hector, Agamemnon etc. get the chance to tell things from their point of view, with most of the important players getting more than one chapter to strut their stuff.
It’s a clever approach; the first person perspective lets the story flow along at a nice pace, but different facets of the tale are still examined, from the perspective of the different characters. With such a stellar cast of leading characters, it would be difficult to single out one main protagonist. Ms McCullough’s technique gets over that problem very neatly and provides the reader with a very readable and enjoyable novel which examines the tale of Troy in the depth which it merits.
It’s a historical novel rather than a history book – whether the original tale of Troy is history or fiction is open to debate of course – but Ms Mcullough has clearly done her research and knows her subject very well. It’s unlikely to offend the sensibilities of any classical scholars who are looking for a good read.
It’s probably worth noting that historical research seems to be something Colleen McCullough enjoys, and has more than a little aptitude for. The depth of her historical research carried out for her “Masters of Rome” series led to her receiving a Doctor of Letters degree from Macquarie University in 1993.
However, the extensive research is used to make the book more believable and Ms McCullough doesn’t feel the need to flaunt her knowledge or force it clumsily upon her readers. It is expertly woven into the fabric of a very well written tale.
I would certainly recommend both “The Song of Troy” and the “Masters of Rome” series to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. I must confess, I still haven’t got around to reading “The Thorn Birds” though. Maybe the next time I’m in India.