20 November 2006

Book Review: Peter Ackroyd - The Fall of Troy

Starting with a marriage in Greece and ending with a horse near Troy. That's not the only echo of the Iliad one might find in this novel.
Ackroyd tells the story German archaeologist Heinrich Obermann (based on the real Heinrich Schliemann), his obsession with Troy and Homer, his questionable pseudo-archaeological practises, the dark side of his personality.
The story follows the (second) marriage of Obermann to a young, intelligent Greek wife. She follows him to the site of the excavation in Turkey and becomes a competent partner in his enterprise. Only later does she find out about the secrets of Obermann's past.

All this is accompanied by echoes from the Homeric epic: We have the above mentioned marriage and the horse, we do have a race around the city of Troy, we have a burial ceremony at the shores of the Mediterranean, etc. - using again Ackroyds established formula of 'mythic geography'; the idea that it is the actual place that determines the activities and even the fates of the people living there (he even has two minor characters spelling this out explicitly - just in case the reader is new to the concept).
The events towards the end of the story, including Obermanns death, are not based on Schliemann life. However, they do allow Ackroyd to come to a proper closure of his various narrative threats.

One of the most interesting themes touched upon is how preconception can shape reality - when a storm destroys evidence to historical facts not compatible with Obermann's idea of Troy, only for this evidence to immediately after his death.

All this would make for an interesting read, if it were not for the fact that the whole novel does feel a bit like an "Peter Ackroyd Formula Novel" - we had all these concepts and ideas in various of his earlier novels. But it does make a nice and welcome departure from his usual London settings.

You can find more information at LibraryThing

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