on July 7, 2000
Colleen McCullough creates a masterful and compelling retelling of the Trojan War. She takes an ancient story of heroic betrayal, vengeance, and hate, and imbues it with humanity. Never have the ramifications of Paris' and Helen's love affair been so fascinating or comprehensible. This epic story is told through the perspectives of the various people involved: Helen, Odysseus, Priam, Achilles, Agamemmon, Brise, and more. Although they do not cease their heroic natures, they lose their demigod standings. As a result, we become empathetic of each character's motivations.
Perhaps one of the reasons we gain empathy for the characters is because they operate independently of the gods. That is, although members of the Olympic pantheon are invoked on numerous occasions, never is an event seen which may only be defined by supernatural means. Nevertheless, only Odysseus has agnostic thoughts.
However, the main reasons we gain empathy for these characters is McCullough's wonderful imaginative talent and the formiddable strength of her writing. Her turns of phrase are poetically inspired. Only with reluctance could I put this book down. I did not want this book to end.
on September 2, 2005
Ms McCullough is a well known author since the publication of her very first novel: "The Thorn Birds" (1977). This kind of success is difficult to maintain in successive publications. Not for her!
Her second huge success was her "Roman Saga" started in 1990 with "The First Man in Rome" and followed by many interesting and documented volumes.
"The Song of Troy" (1998) is a forceful retelling of the Trojan War Epic.
The author writes each chapter as told from a different main character: from Priam to Hector; from Achilles to Agamemnon and from Helen to Hecuba. Every side in conflict has his saying, allowing the reader to make up his own mind about justice, common sense, madness, love, hatred and stubbornness displayed by each subject.
For each Hero or Heroine Ms McCullough has constructed a very verisimilar persona based on classic texts material, personal intuition and literary sagacity.
This book reveals Ms McCullough has done a profound research in Classic texts such as Greek Tragedies "Iphigenia in Aulis", "Helen" and "Ajax" from Euripides and Sophocles; Epic Poems as "Iliad", "Little Iliad", "Odyssey" and "Aeneid" from Homer and Virgil.
She blends everything in a seamless coherent text with a modern and engaging prose giving the reader the possibility to get acquainted with the Trojan Drama from its start till the final scenes in only one volume.
There are two points of the novel that astounded and delighted me: the first is how the author avoids the direct appearance of Olympic Gods without eluding the influence of supernatural on human actions and the second is the very rational explanation she devices to clear the shocking conflict between Agamemnon and Achilles.
I strongly recommend this book to every reader interested in Trojan War, ancient Greece and historical novel.
Reviewed by Max Yofre.
on November 17, 2000
Ms McCullough tells the story of the trojan war in a most interesting way - a political context is presented, the characters' psyche, set of mind, and motivations are presented, and the plot is broken into chapters, each told by a character around which that part of the plot turns, e.g. By Helen, Achiles, and Priamus.
The storytelling is great - I was touched by the scene in which Priamus leaves Troy and comes to Achilles and asks him to give him Hector's body so he could give him proper burial, which is minimalist yet touches the heart.
This way the plot comes to life, rather than being retold as a myth or dry history, and makes for a great reading.
The book is written as prose and doesnt go into great detail when it comes to describing material which isnt a part of the plot (e.g. the ornaments on shields), which makes it more readable than a faithful translation of Homer's Illiad (it's noteworthy that Ms McCullough used material not only from Homer but from other sources as well, such as Virgil and Hesiod).
This book makes for a long reading - it took me several hours of reading over a two weeks period - but I enjoyed it a lot, and recommend it with all my heart.
on April 22, 2000
An excellent interpretation of a classic Greek tale. Ms. McCullough has brought literature that is often seen unaccessible into the reach of modern readers and in the voices of those who stood at the walls of Troy. Readers are brought into the political climate that set the stage for war, the romance that was used as an excuse, and into the events that may have created the myths of divine intervention. This tale is a must for lovers of Greek literature and an excellent companion to the original poem.
on August 24, 2004
I first bought this book while randomly browsing through a bookstore when I was in 9th grade. I was attracted to the book by my love of Greek mythology and knowledge of Colleen McCullough's skill as a writer after reading _The Thorn Birds_. I have recently reread the book and believe it is a must-read for lovers of Greek mythology and those interested in the story of Troy.
Each chapter of the story is told from the perspective of a different character, and though we hear the voices of Hector, Helen, Odysseus, Briseis, Agamemnon, Nestor, Ajax, and others, the story is by no means fragmented. (I am using the more common spellings of their names and not the spellings McCullough chooses.) Instead, it is enriched by this multiplicity of narrators.
The gods are mentioned in a way that keeps us wondering about the true existence and nature of divinity. Odysseus is shown, more so than ever, to be cunning and wise beyond his time. The relationship of Achilles and Hector is beautifully written, as always and the relationship of Achilles and Briseis, which is usually given less attention, is haunting as well. Helen is well characterized as a hedonistic, prideful, self-centered, and cruelly sharp woman whom we enjoy hearing from despite her deficiencies. Agamemnon is proud, and yet he is not so in the flat and utterly despicable way many tales present him to be; McCullough's weaving of her own creations and known mythology present him as being more human and pitiable, perhaps even misunderstood and treated unjustly by history. The characters all seem to spring to life and yet, they retain the quality of immortality and timelessness that has fallen upon all figures of Greek mythology.
With all the tellings and retellings of the story of the Trojan War I have seen and read, I have come to a realization that the best version of a well-known story is the version that makes you want to believe it is true. This realization was also aided by recent adaptations, _Helen of Troy_ (2003) and _Troy_ (2004), which I believe to be far inferior to this book in their presentation of the Trojan War. Colleen McCullough's _The Song of Troy_ is one of the few versions I have read that does not compromise classical Greek mythology while bestowing flesh and blood and a voice upon each character and giving the story new possibilities. It is the one version out of all those that I have read and seen that I want very much to believe.
on December 21, 2004
SUMMARY: New retelling of the Trojan War notable in that in tells the story from the vantage point of all major characters.
WHY YOU'LL LIKE IT: McCollough has a gift for prose; the words flow seamlessly together and practically leap off the page and visual images form in your head. McCollough picks up on a lot of themes alluded to in the Iliad, i.e. Achilles and Patroclus as lovers, and makes them explicit. Powerful descriptions, tender love scenes, and enthralling action sequences all paced well make this a winner. She proffers the war was fought not over Helen but for control of the Hellespont and the Black Sea, as well as Asia Minor; definitely plausible.
WHY YOU WON'T: As a trained classicist, I just couldn't get behind some of the characterizations in this novel, particularly that of Helen. In the primary sources, this important character actually is given almost no voice. The voice McCollough gives her is one of a precocious nymphomaniac transformed later into a vain, egotistical, superficial slut who willingly abandons her children because they are not as beautiful as she. Just couldn't buy it, which is why I awarded 3 stars rather than 4.
BOTTOM LINE: If you love mythology and war/action sagas with a romantic undercurrent, you'll enjoy this book immensely.
on January 7, 2005
As a student of Archaeology and Classical Studies, I am frequently hard-pressed to find accurate and intelligent variations and interpretations of ancient works by modern authors. McCullough's 'Song of Troy', while it admittedly takes several liberties with character personalities, follows the original 'Illiad' with startling accuracy of actions, but also gives insight as to different reasons WHY the characters may have taken these actions.
It must be remembered that the Illiad, while it will always be the authoritative voice, does not provide extensive insight into character development. For example, Achilles in the Iliad actually leaves the action quite early on and does not return until the later books near the end... McCullough has taken this and other events and tried to fill in the gaps, making the characters and their actions more human, and therefore better understood in the context of the original poem.
I can see how a purist might not appreciate this, but the reality is that there is no 'pure' version of the original either -- this was a poem that was handed down orally for generations before being written down, and for all we know we could have a substantially different version than was, say, being recited in Sparta or Pylos at the time. We know certain segments were altered for the audience, and it just so happens that someone somewhere finally decided to write their version down. Is it so wrong now, that a modern-day storyteller would tell the story again, altering it slightly for their audience? It doesn't break the purity of the original, it merely shows the continuation of this ancient tradition, following in the footsteps of Homer himself.
McCullough's 'Song of Troy' is entrancing and captivating, and will bring the famed story to life as you read. It will be a welcome addition to anyone's collection who understands that 'tampering' with a story such as this is not really tampering at all, but a continuation of a tradition unbroken through the ages -- "this is how things are, and Zeus himself, The thunder lord, could not make them otherwise." (Book 14, lines 50-51)
on December 12, 2005
Sadly, The Song of Troy is no longer in print, and the novel is hard to find; however, it is a must read for anyone interested in the Trojan War or historical fiction in general. McCullough writes her tale with grace and thoughtfulness comparable to Mary Renault. The Trojan War and the events leading up to it are told in about a dozen different perspectives, which offer a diverse and full encapsulation of the period. I especially admire McCullough's interpretation of the rift between Achilles and Agamemnon, which seems more plausible, in my opinion, than the usual explanation. While people may disagree with her interpretation, it is impossible to find flaws in her prose, which is eloquent, evocative, and captivating.
on October 17, 2007
Colleen McCullough was born in Australia. A neurophysicist, she established the department of neurophysiology at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney She then worked as a researcher and teacher at Yale Medical School for ten years. She is the author of the record-breaking international bestseller The Thorn Birds and her series of books on Rome have also been bestsellers. Colleen lives on Norfolk Island in the Pacific with her husband.
Colleen McCullough has been one of my favourite authors, every since I read the book The First Man in Rome and then eagerly awaited the next in the series and then the next and so on. The book The Song of Troy is a compelling read. The author tells a story that has stood the test of time, but in her own inimitable way. There is not a boring page in the book never mind a boring chapter I enjoyed it tremendously the first time I read it when it was published in 1998 and second time around I found it even better.
I doubt that there is anyone in the English speaking world who does not know the story of Troy but the author brings the story to life with such effect that the reader feels that they are there within the walls of Troy with Hector and Paris, waiting for the Greeks to try to breach their defences. I suppose each individual reader will make their own mind up whether to side with the Trojans or the Greeks and that is what makes this ancient story so interesting.
on March 12, 2005
McCullough gives a unique view of the war told by numerous characters from Achilles, Hector, Odysseus, etc. Having their point of view gives the story a realistic touch.
My only complaint is that I wish Cassandra would have had a chapter, maybe the fall of Troy. It would have been interesting through her eyes.
Overall a great read and one of my favorite stories of the Trojan War, I've read it three or four times now.