Saturday, 2 August 2008

Peter Ackroyd – “The Fall of Troy”

Publ: 2006 ISBN 0 7011 7911 2
Rating - ***

This book is set in the 19th century during the excavation of the Bronze Age site of Troy. You won't really learn much from this book since so much is myth and separating it from the history and from ramblings of Obermann's diseased mind is virtually impossible. Nevertheless it is cleverly atmospheric and good fun.
Sophia Chrysanthis is only 16 when the German archaeologist, Herr Obermann, comes wooing: he wants a Greek bride who knows her Homer. Sophia passes his test, and soon she is tying canvas sacking to her legs so that she can kneel on the hard ground in the trench, removing the earth methodically, identifying salient points, lifting out amphorae and bronze vessels without damaging them. Obermann is very good at the art of archaeology but the atmosphere at Troy is tense and mysterious. Sophia finds herself increasingly baffled by the past . . . not only the remote past but also Obermann's own, recent past — a past that he has chosen to hide from her.
Much to the annoyance of colleagues Obermann claims “Archaeology is not a science. It is an art.” But she, too, is very good at the art of digging up the past . . .
My favourite part is where Obermann is ‘exorcising’ a house and borrows a vicar’s cross and some well water to perform a made up rite which involves him quoting Latin texts at the local Turks who fail to realise he is quoting Virgil. Decimus Harding, the vicar does not know whether he should permit it but when Obermann actually starts Decimues says “He is mixing up his Virgil, That is blasphemy.”

PETER ACKROYD is a highly acclaimed historian, biographer, poet, and novelist. He was born in London in 1949 and studied at both Cambridge and Yale universities.

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