The Song of Troy by Colleen McCullough

(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

In The Song of Troy, the bestselling author of The Thorn Birds recounts the tale of Helen and Paris, the immortal lovers who doomed two great nations to a terrible war.  It is told through the eyes of its main characters: the sensuous and self-indulgent Helen; the subtle and brilliant Odysseus; the sad old man Priam, King of Troy; the tormented warrior prince, Achilles; and Agamemnon, King of Kings, who consents to the unspeakable in order to launch his thousand ships.  This is an unputdownable tale of love, ambition, delusion, honour and consuming passion.

The Song of Troy is thus far my favourite book dealing with the Trojan War and I’m lucky I even found it at all because it was in the ‘Almost New’ section of my local bookstore.  I almost never found it, except that the picture of Helen on the spine drew me to it.  Yes, I judge books by their covers; I’m a horrible person.  It’s nearly five hundred pages long but they read fast and before too long, it’s over and you’re left feeling sad.  You probably know how the Trojan War ends (hint: the Greeks kick butt), but after falling in love with the characters over 500 pages, it’s hard to let go.

In any other author’s hands, each chapter being told from a different point of view would be annoying head-hopping.  Yet in Colleen McCullough’s book, you don’t really get that sense.  Each chapter is clearly labelled as being a new point of view and when each new person picks up the tale, they are moving the action forward, not merely recounting what happened to them up until that point.  Of course characters like Helen, Odysseus, Achilles and Agamemnon get more page time than minor characters like Diomedes, Automedon and Nestor, but you get the sense that you know each character intimately.

What I like best about The Song of Troy is that we get behind-the-scenes explanations for each character’s motivations.  Achilles, instead of being portrayed as a complete [expletive of your choice], we see how it was necessary to have a very public break with Agamemnon over—you guessed it—a woman.  Odysseus is my favourite character in the whole book because he’s intelligent, crafty and politically savvy.  He’s notorious for his irreverent, but utterly brilliant advice on how to win the war:

“You could, of course, starve them out.”

Nestor gasped in outrage.  “Odysseus, Odysseus!  There you go again!  We’d be cursed to instant madness!”

He wriggled his red brows, unrepentant as ever.  “I know, Nestor.  But as far as I can see, all the rules of war seem to favour the enemy.  Which is a great pity.  Starvation makes sense.” (Pg 182)

This was my first Colleen McCullough novel and I’m most definitely looking forward to reading her famous series, The Masters of Rome.  If The Song of Troy is any indication as to how much research she does, how well she plots novels and how sympathetically she portrays historical figures…well, let’s just say I will have stumbled onto my new favourite series.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

Amazon*     Barnes and Noble*

*Sadly, The Song of Troy is only available as a used book.

One comment

  1. chris bergeron

    I agree. A thoughtful novelization of The Iliad that deserves to be back in print. McCullough has taken a few bold liberties that largely work and make this superior novel an enjoyable and informative read.

Leave a Reply