Thursday, July 2, 2015

Helen of Troy by Margaret George

Helen of Troy by Margaret George. Penguin Books; 2007. 638 pages. Paperback/Softcover.

This massive tome by Margaret George tells the story of Helen of Troy, the woman whose "face launched a thousand ship." Married to Menelaus, she becomes queen of Sparta and endures a marriage lacking passion or desire. The gods, however (specifically Aphrodite), have other plans for Helen, and she becomes enamored with Paris of Troy, eventually running away with him and igniting the the infamous Trojan War.

I really, really wanted to love this book. I so badly did. I'm a classics major, so this is basically what I live and breathe and am obsessed with. It was a wonderfully written, extremely interesting book to read, but, unfortunately, I had a big problem with the characters - specifically Helen and Paris. I completely understand where this story is coming from and why the characters act in the manner that they do, but I became so annoyed with them at various times throughout the novel. At points, I really just wanted to grab and shake them while telling them to stop complaining - you brought this on yourself, so now live with your consequences. They knew this would happen (damn Greeks always trying to ignore and hide from prophecy when we all know it comes true every. single. time) I was also disappointed with the fact that Helen and Paris' affair never really moved me. I didn't feel caught up in their deep, passionate love; in fact, I almost didn't care. I almot wished Helen had just stayed at home in Sparta. I could obviously see how passionate they were, but I didn't really become a part of it like I had hoped I would. I never really enjoyed or liked Paris' character; he was rather bland and one dimensional. This also moves into the fact that while the story itself was supposed to be extremely emotional and heart-wrenching, it was actually rather emotionless. While the dialogue relating to war and politics sounded very accurate and real, the dialogue concerning emotions, such as between Paris and Helen, was lacking any real meaning, and again, made it hard to care or become invested in their story.

That little rant aside, it was a actually lovely book otherwise. I know, I probably sound contradictory. But honestly, it was beautifully written. The other characters were depicted wonderfully and I truly enjoyed them. The writing was seamless and poetic; it almost begs you to read it slowly in order to fully appreciate the beauty that can be found.

This is definitely a dense book, and it took me a bit longer to get through than other books of this side. There is a lot of information about the characters, politics, war, etc., and it can be a bit heavy and dull at times. I really appreciate the obvious amount of research and effort George went to in order to create an as-accurate-as-possible account of Helen and her involvement with the Trojan War, as it was by far one of the better retellings of Greek mythology that I have read. If she had taken that research and developed a slightly more emotional story, it would have made a much more intriguing novel.

Overall, I'm giving Helen of Troy three-and-a-half stars. I had a really hard time deciding between three and four, so I decided half works well. The story was written beautifully, but the characters lacked depth, and that was a pretty big problem for me, personally.

Books similar to Helen of Troy:

The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen
Both novels share a vibrant and elaborate storyline set in a richly described setting. The Creation of Eve centers on a female Renaissance Painter, Sofonisba Anguissola, as she becomes a painting teacher to Queen Elisabeth, wife of King Felipe II of Spain.

Much like Helen of Troy, Abundance focuses on a first person female narrative that is full of lyrical, poetic descriptions. Abundance follows the life of Marie Antoinette from her marriage to the Dauphin Louis XVI of France to her death in 1793.

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  1. I know this is a very old review, but as far as I know, there was a point in Helen's life in which she was abducted by Theseus. This abduction happened by most accounts when Helen was a child between the ages of 7 and 11. This was not mentioned in the book. Did the author miss it or the accounts were simply disregarded as untrue?

    1. You're totally right and I'm not sure why she didn't feature it. My guess is that George just chose to not include that particular story of her life in order to focus solely on her role in the Trojan War. I'd love to read a story of Helen that does include that story, though!