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Monday, September 14, 2009

Helen of Troy by Margaret George

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Pages: 747

Copyright: 2006


Rating 3 1/2 Crowns

Helen of Troy
held great promise and had the ability to be a fantastic book. For the first 200 pages, I was enthralled with the life of this beautiful woman who held such power in mythology. The writing was so beautiful that it held its own rythym - I truly felt like I had closed my eyes and opened them in Sparta.

In the tradition of the epic historical fiction Margaret George is renowned for, Helen of Troy follows Helen from her early childhood right through the Trojan war and onto her eventual death. I've classed it as historical fantasy due to the fact that the story is grounded in mythology and does involve a measured amount of mystycism however, the level of research invested in this novel has meant that this is a mythological tale set against the very real backdrop of history.

The writing of this novel is introspective and delicate - there were passages I read that caused me to stop and take a slow breath. Take for example, this extract where Helen is speaking of her passion and love for Paris:

I lay looking at the tent ceiling in the darkness. This is what people speak of. Oh, my deepest thanks, Aphrodite, for granting it to me. I know now that to die without tasting this is truly not to have lived. In this, and this only, have we lived: to feel all, to dare all, to try all. (Page 230)

But for all the beauty of this novel, the writer made some very brave choices in her telling of it and I must admit that they did cause me to struggle to like Helen. In this version of the tale Helen does love her husband Menelaus and deeply respects him however feels no physical desire for him and feels trapped in a marriage that will forever lack the passion of Aphrodite. At the age of 25 Helen finds this passion with 16 year old Paris and consequently decides to abandon her husband and her 9 year old daughter to set sail for the shores of Troy and a life she imagines to be full of adventure. I couldn't help but baulk at her decision - perhaps it may have been forgiveable had her husband been a cruel man?

I may be revealing my ignorance of the mythology behind this novel by making this comment and if there are any readers who can correct me, please do, but I found it very difficult to overcome the fact that Paris was so young. Secondary characters refer to him as a 'boy' throughout the novel and at times I felt disbelief that the depths of Helen's emotions could run strong enough to risk everything for a mere teenager. I guess I would've felt a little more sympathetic to her plight had she been overcome by lust for a man or had she been herself a very young woman. As much as I hate to say it, I didn't feel that this novel successfully overcame the challenges of character laid down in the early plot. At the end of it all, I felt that due to her naivity and selfishness Helen kind of deserved her fate! Was that the intention of the author? I'm still not sure...

The slow and thoughtful pace of Helen of Troy is one of the things that makes this book so beautiful when you first begin reading it however, as a reader it becomes tedious when that same pace continues over 700 pages. It's difficult to create suspense when you're retelling such a famous and well-known story but when you're dealing with a war that carried such heavy consequences, I think it still would have been very achievable for a writer with a gift for words the way Margaret George has. I felt this book would've benefited from a 'less is more' approach; it could have easily been at least 200 pages shorter.

I really did enjoy this book and am certainly glad I read it but unfortunatley felt that ultimately it didn't deliver on the promise of a fantastic beginning. I would recommend Helen of Troy to readers who are fascinated by the legend of the Trojan War however I believe the best enjoyment will be found by approaching this novel with the expectation of reading an epic tragedy - if pace does not overly concern you, you will likely fall in love with the magic of Margaret George's prose.

Visit Annie @ her blog Reading, Writing & Ranting

Princess of the Past


Falling Off The Shelf said...

Wonderful review! I just finished reading Cleopatra's Daughter and am now in the mood for some more Historical Fiction. This sounds like something that I may be interested in reading, but am a bit skeptical due to your review. I will give it a try none the less, and hope that I enjoy it.


Annie - Princess of the Past said...

Hey Falling off the Shelf - thanks for stopping by! I think there are plenty of readers who will enjoy this book and I hope you love it. Margaret George is a wonderful writer and I have found myself thinking about the story a couple of days after finishing it.

For me though, I struggled with the pace and Helen's character. Maybe my expectations were more in line with blockbuster movie vs historical fiction? I analysed my reaction for a few days before I wrote this review but found my feelings about it didn't change.

If you do read it, let me know. I'd be happy to hear you had a different opinion!

Teddyree said...

A really wonderful review Annie, honest & obviously well thought out. I actually have this on my bookshelf but the size has deterred me, chunksters have not been on the menu lately lol.
Will let you know if I decide to tackle it!

Annie - Princess of the Past said...

I don't blame you Teddyree - it's a big one. I really do recommend the audio version. Although it's long, the lady who does it has this sing-song voice that's like honey. Very easy to listen to if you have a week...or two.

I'd love to hear what you think about it if you read it. You'll let me know if I'm being a twit LOL! You know, I just felt it wasn't quite a 4.

K said...

Great Review
I've had this on my to read list for a while..think i'll leave it there for a while..Long books that shouldn't be so long aren't very tempting.

Ms. Lucy said...

I do love ancient Greek history and mythology and the story of Troy..but you do raise a thought-provoking question about Paris, his youth and Helen..I can't really fathom the attraction here and it is a bit disturbing. What I can offer is that considering that people matured a lot faster back then (and shorter longevity)I guess he was older in many ways? Thanks for giving an honest review- I appreciate the details and the food for thought. Thanks:)

Jasmine said...

I love Troy (the movie) as it really is a well done epic Hollywood blockbuster and Brad Pitt has gotten finer with age in my opinion ;) I really like Margaret George a lot too. I loved Cleopatra and Henry VII was good too so when I heard she was tackling Helen of Troy I was so excited. I bought the book and read it as soon as it came out and it was a big disappointment. I felt that Helen's character was weak and wishy washy and certainly not the person I would want to fight a war for. It was a let down for me.

The Book Resort said...

Fabulous review, Annie!

As for Brad... he looks so yummy here!

Sue said...

Great review! Thanks for sharing it.

s.mickelson at gmail dot com

Annie - Princess of the Past said...

K - thanks for reading. I think it would've been better had it been shorter.

Ms Lucy - That's true and I tried to take that into consideration. Maybe that's Paris's age in the myth? I tried to research it but couldn't find the answer online.

Jasmine - Sounds like we had similar thoughts on this one. I didn't really warm to grown up Helen either! I do loooooove the movie too :-)

Diane & Sue - thanks for stopping by and reading!

J.T. said...

I love Greek myths, so I think I'd really enjoy this one!

ibeeeg said...

This was a wonderful review.

I am torn...should I read or should I not???
I am thinking that I will add this book to my to-read list. The fact that you describe the writing as beautiful is enough to draw me in. As far as the story line of Helen's love and decisions...well, I think I can read and still enjoy the book.
It may be a bit before I get to this read though.

Annie - Princess of the Past said...

J.T. & Ibeeeg - Definitely give it a try! Thanks for reading the review :-)