Helen of Troy by Margaret George
|Helen of Troy by Margaret George|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A beautifully written book that evokes time and place wonderfully, but George is less successful at creating a credible mythological figure than she has been at creating personalities from real historical players.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 540||Date: January 2007|
Helen of Troy, she of the face that launched a thousand ships, is one of the most famous mythological figures. Her unsurpassed beauty triggered the ten year Trojan War and caused the destruction of an entire dynasty. Two whole civilisations fought for her. In this book, Margaret George brings her pen to bear on the formidable task of bringing Helen to life for second millennium reader. They're all here: Paris and Helen, the runaway lovers, Menelaus the wronged husband, Priam and Agamemnon the leaders of their peoples, Achilles and Hector the heroes, Odysseus the cunning. It's an absolutely massive undertaking.
In terms of structure and atmosphere, George does not let us down. She has an unparalleled ability to transform meticulous research into a living, breathing panoply of colour and life. Reading this book, I felt immersed in a bronze age world. She can sustain pace and tension over a thirty year time period and over almost a thousand pages without ever resorting to cliche or allowing the reader to become lost or confused. Not many writers can be so dense and also so clear.
Where Helen of Troy is less successful is in the characterisation. George's other subjects have been real historical figures. She created an utterly convincing Cleopatra and an even more believable Henry VIII. Helen of Troy, though, does not rise from these pages as a sympathetic, or even well-rounded figure. I think this is largely because she is a figure from mythology, not from history, and George's view of her comes to us through the prism of other writers of fiction - the classical writers whose own work was was fitted in to particular literary conventions. According to legend, Helen is guilty of some rather unpleasant deeds - abandoning children and husband, causing the death of her sister - and the role of her devastating beauty in this is never quite brought to life in George's book. Helen did not come to life for me.
I really wanted to enjoy this book. Margaret George has made rather a name for herself in the world of decent quality fiction. All her novels are brick-sized, so you really do want to be confident of enjoying them before you embark upon the eight hundred or so pages. And I did enjoy it. It's beautifully written, the dialogue is refreshingly free from the cliched, stilted words found in inferior historical fiction and the backdrop is so real that you feel as though you could reach out and touch it. I just wish that Helen could have come to life in as evocative a way as the world in which she lived.
If you are new to this writer, don't start with Helen of Troy. Try The Autobiography of Henry VIII or The Memoirs of Cleopatra instead.
My thanks to the publisher, Pan, for sending the book.
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