My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Troy is one of those stories that endures. Regardless of whatever spin on it, be that the intense metrosexuality of Brad Pitt’s Achilles or the beautiful lyricism of Gareth Hinds’ Odyssey, the stories of Odysseus, Hector, Achilles and Priam last and have lasted. It’s maybe due to the big, classic, timeless nature of these stories, dealing as they do with love – jealousy – war. Themes that have not changed, even when the world has.
Geras has written several stories about Classical Greece. Dido and Ithaka form a sort of trilogy with Troy, covering as they do different parts of the period and different perspectives. Troy itself is set inside the walls of the city, with a focus on the story of the two sisters Marpessa and Xanthe. War has been going on for ten years, and the people of Troy have grown used to death and destruction. The Gods roam the world freely, talking with the Greeks and the Trojans and watching these great events unfurl. The gap between the worlds is thin, thinnest in the Blood Room where the wounded Trojans recover from battle, and where Xanthe works.
This is the story of the womens’ war, of the servants’ war. Geras keeps us mainly with the women of Troy, Andromache, Helen, Hecuba, the gossips and with the foolish lovelorn love-tossed children of the city. She keeps us with those who are left behind, those who have to stand and watch and suffer.
There’s a lot of tiredness in Troy. It’s a book where people are ready for the end, for their lives to change and for things to finally come to the great resolution. I love that, but it’s not for everyone. All the ‘big’ events that you expect to happen in a Troy narrative happen off stage as it were. Here we see it happen through the filter of the women of Troy, of the old male singer straining to see beyond the walls, and of poor fated Hector playing with his son and wife.
Don’t let that fool you though. This book doesn’t lack tension. In fact, it’s full of it. There’s the ever-present pressure of having to eat when all food is a fight, of having to wash when all the stains are blood, of having to live with the choices you made, and of having to grow up in an upside down world. Of knowing that love will either kill you or make you or be out of your hands all together.
Troy is a powerful, big book, and it’s one that is beautifully written. Geras has a great gift of precision with her language, able to catch the sharpest of moments in the briefest of sentences, able to let her characters be flawed and hopeful and foolish and naive all at the same time. In a way she underwrites scenes but does so to great effect, allowing pauses to come in and for the events to fully sink in. There’s an almost aural quality about her writing at times which is curiously fitting in a narrative of this nature.
This is a book to sink into.