Book Review – Troy by Stephen Fry

books, reviews

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It seems as though the trend of introducing modern readers to Greek mythology isn’t going away any time soon. And I couldn’t be happier. I love being able to revisit these stories in a more relaxed way. I finished listening to Stephen Fry’s Heroes last Sunday and immediately started listening to Troy. I had so enjoyed his retelling of the myths about the great Greek heroes that I knew I wanted to see what he made of the Trojan War. After all, we’d heard it referenced so much in the earlier work. It also helped that Helen gets a mention in Less is Lost. I felt like the universe was telling me that it’s time.

The Trojan War is one of the most important and well-known Greek myths. It has served as inspiration for plenty of writers. In Troy, Stephen Fry continues his streak of presenting Greek myths in an accessible and fun way. The chances are everyone reading this book will have at least some idea of what happened during the Trojan war. You know, Helen, Paris, Agamemnon, Achilles, Odysseus and a large wooden horse. Plenty of people will know how the story ends but how did it start? Although Tory is primarily concerned with the actual war itself, a lot of time is spent introducing the major player and explaining how everyone came to be involved in the conflict. This means the format is slightly more rambling than his previous book Heroes. At times it has the feel of Tristram Shandy but it just adds to the conversational style.

Despite the slightly complex timeline of this book, Troy feels like a refreshing change from the previous books in this series. This is the first book that follows a single narrative. Both Mythos and Heroes were made up of vignettes and short stories. They jumped from character to character and back again. This time, we are working towards a final point. It might be a bit rambly but there is a logic to way this book is organised. Every time we meet a character, we are given a brief history. Every time we go to a new place, we learn about how it came to thrive. There is never a sense that this is done to simply drag out the inevitable but to provide useful context. Yes, we all want to get to the good stuff but it’s also useful to know how everyone came to be.

As Stephen Fryadmits at the start of his book, “all things, Troy included, begin and end with Zeus”. Once again, it is Zeus’ lust that indirectly sets the wheels in motion for the big conflict. It is quite the tapestry and there are plenty of people who turn up for brief moments never to be seen again. Fry is at pains to point out that you don’t need to remember every single strand of the story but it’s good to get the context. It helps that the writer is as passionate and charming as ever. His desire to introduce contemporary readers to these stories is evident and his natural wit shines through. This means reading about the history behind the war never feels like a chore. The writing isn’t dry or academic. The tone of this series is always natural and casual.

Like the rest of the series, I’d say that this book was appropriate for a wide range of readers. Although, there is obviously more violence within this book. Some of the major deaths are fairly gruesome as is some of the treatment of their corpses. However, none of it is described in a really graphic way and Fry is always ready to remind us that their behaviour isn’t to be celebrated. Once again, I listened to the audiobook version and think it definitely made the experience more accessible. Fry brings the story to life and his voice breathes life into these old characters. His use of accents to differentiate people has been a joy when listening to these books and it’s put to great use here. His own narration of these books is what makes them such a joy to listen to.

Tory is another great addition to this series and Fry, once again, relies on several different sources to tell this story. This means he manages to create a comprehensive but enjoyable retelling of the fall of Troy. Yes, this story has been told by numerous writers over the years but it’s always fun to see how other people interpret them. If you enjoyed the previous books, Troy will be another delight.

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