Loads of Learned Lumber

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Barry Unsworth, _The Songs of the Kings_

IPHIGENIA IN AULIS, in historical novel mode -- operating under the assumption that Agamemnon, Odysseus, Achilles, et al. were every bit as petty, hypocritical, opportunistic, duplicitous, and unwilling to acknowledge their real motives as Bush, Blair, & Co.

And not an assumption you need strain much at, provided you are willing to go along with the premise that these fictional characters are the real scoop on characters who were fictional in the first place.

The Songs of the Kings thus belongs in "twas ever thus" category of historical novels, rather than the Luk√°cs-approved "things were wholly different once" category. Or perhaps the historical-novel-as-oblique-commentary-on-contemporary-events category, like, mmm, Felix Holt the Radical, perhaps, or Wajda's film Danton.

A good novel, but I found myself continually making unfavorable comparisons to Mark Merlis's An Arrow's Flight, one of the great novels of recent decades, to my mind, as well as one of the most compelling contemporary re-imaginings of the matter of Troy, and one which so far as I can discern gets nothing like the accolades it deserves. It's up there with Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, if you ask me. So get around to asking me, won't you? Thanks.

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