Helen of Troy by Margaret George

This book is a beautiful example of historical FICTION.  I boldly capitalize the word ‘fiction’ because the original story ofTroyand its long siege per se is a fictitious yarn, loosely based on events whose historicity has yet to be fully proven. The famous narrative ‘Iliad’ has become the intrinsic part of human cultural heritage and in its turn has given birth to a number of artistic interpretations.   Most of the spin-offs (novels, paintings, poems, movies, plays) mainly tell the story of warriors and men. This lengthy novel gives a unique feminine perspective.

Helen of Sparta, later ofTroy, tells us the story of her life, marriages, loves, hopes, an epic destruction. Due to the cultural background, the plot is not original as it retells the story every person is expected to be familiar with. What is unique about this novel is the strong and independent feminine voice of the narrator who deals with the burden of circumstances, curses, fate, and people who drastically change her life.

Despite the numerous tragedies (the death of her mother, her brothers, her beloved, and other people he liked) Helen is not an embittered character even in the land of strangers. The author masterfully shows her conflicted soul and how she has to accept her new loyalty in the war betweenGreeceandTroy.  The characters on both sides of this war are believable and surprisingly human. The only two of them stand out due to their voracious desire to accumulate power and to kill – they are Agamemnon and Achilles. And if the first one has notoriously been known for his instigating skills, Achilles is often revered as the strongest Greek warrior with the noble veneer. In this novel he is just a ruthless killer with the amazing power.

Because the traditional story ofTroywith its eventual demise is always associated with the divine elements, this novel also has to do with the question of whimsical and petty Greek gods. The topic is daunting enough to handle from the very beginning due to the questionable nature of every deity, especially if the story is shaped by Fate and numerous prophecies.  Ms. George manages to find a fine balance between the world of gods, demigods, and nymphs and the world of people. Theologically, it is more of a deistic approach; from the viewpoint of literature her gods do not influence the world of people much and their existence is harmoniously interwoven into the fabric of human life.

The language is rich and extremely sensuous, the voice of the protagonist changes with the age of the heroine – from an innocent girl and later a bride to a desirable woman to a wife and grandmother.  This voice convincingly conveys the messages that every woman can relate to even nowadays. Helen of Sparta, ofTroy, and ofSpartaagain is first and foremost a woman who finally finds some peace in the end of her life.

There is also one more interesting point to consider – the book does not stop with the fall of Troy (though the biggest part is over); the narrator still continues exploring the lives of other people, involved into this historic tragedy. We learn about Andromache, Odysseus, Clytemnestra, Orestes, Electra, and Hermione.

The book itself is not only based on the famous ‘Iliad’ but incorporates many other Greek myths and the plots of ancient tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Hence, both the serious research and extensive reading were the successful foundation for this culturally rich novel.


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Filed under Book Review, Literary Fiction

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