three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
33-Mar-Apr-2008
user_rating: 
0

A-The Fall of TroyIn the second half of the 19th century, German businessman Heinrich Obermann, a Grecophile and shady antiquities collector seeking to piece together the world described in Homer’s epics, goes about his work with obsessive zeal. Obermann, a thinly veiled and reimagined substitute for real-life 19th-century archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, believes he has uncovered the palace of Odysseus. Further discovery in Turkey of a site that could be the historical Troy drives him even closer to the brink of madness. When an American archaeologist dies under suspicious circumstances, Obermann’s much-younger wife, Sophia, wonders what role her husband might have played.
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday. 212 pages. $23. ISBN: 0385522908

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"Ackroyd’s most lauded novels tend to combine history and imagination, and The Fall of Troy is no exception. … Written by a lover of history, it seems designed to send readers back to learn more about either the real or the mythic Troy." Yvonne Zipp

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The Fall of Troy is a sly, witty and oddly engaging novel that meditates on literature and idealism and the uses and misuses of both. It takes full and knowing advantage of the archaeological metaphor to suggest how human experience can reveal itself to the discerning, one stratum at a time." Tim Rutten

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The important thing here is that Peter Ackroyd has written a marvelously charming and funny book, while gently reminding us about the strength of our own self-delusions. … From the minute Heinrich Obermann struggles up from his creaky knees, you’re going to love this book." Carolyn See

Baltimore Sun 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Although the characterization at times is as skimpy as the plot is busy, since Ackroyd crams so much action into 200-plus pages, this adventure-packed novel brings history—both real and imagined—to life. As the book casts its inexorable spell, Hissarlik gradually becomes a place, like (Ackroyd’s) London, where gods and men, supernatural and natural, meet, however briefly." Diane Scharper

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The novel is impressively lean; it never lags or bogs down. And yet, for all the skill Ackroyd deploys in structuring his narrative, The Fall of Troy sometimes has a tinny, hollow quality that undercuts its rich subject matter." David Leavitt

San Antonio Exp-News 2 of 5 Stars
"Readers gradually discern, along with Sophia, that Obermann is not what he pretends. … The [final] contrivances spoil even the nascent imagination vs. reality theme Ackroyd tries to develop." David Hendricks

Critical Summary

The prolific Brit Peter Ackroyd has built his reputation on eclectic, wide-ranging projects that include a dozen novels (such as The Lambs of London, 4 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2006) and biographies of Shakespeare, William Blake, Chaucer, and the city of London, among others. The Fall of Troy is a meditation on the siren song of history and a compact, disarming (if ultimately dark) character sketch that explores the limits of belief. The author displays his wit and polymathic interests here, though he cuts the subject so close to the bone that the work "sometimes has a tinny, hollow quality" (New York Times). The San Antonio Express-News also accused Ackroyd of soap-opera twists. Readers may be left wanting more, but what Ackroyd offers is, for the most part, an interesting premise done with aplomb.