The Fall Of Troy
In this small but perfectly formed novel, Peter Ackroyd returns to the themes of fakes and forgeries. Set during the excavation of Troy, it tells the story of Sophia Chrysanthis, teenage bride of Heinrich Obermann, the archaeologist in charge. It is not so much Sophia’s beauty which attracts Obermann as her knowledge of Homer – and her father’s money. Obermann’s convictions about Troy are not supported by the evidence, and he is running out of support. Besieged by his Turkish overseer, who suspects he has been looting precious finds, and under scrutiny from British and American academics who question his methods, Obermann needs a break. But for Obermann, archaeology is an art, not a science, a matter more of intuition than evidence, and Homer is history rather than myth. The novel reaches its dramatic conclusion when Obermann’s vision of Troy is challenged by the decipherment of writing on clay tablets which shows the Trojans to have been cannibals and exponents of human sacrifice. Sophia, meanwhile, has been doing a little archaeology of her own, digging up her husband’s past to find he is guilty of mythologising himself as well as the Trojans.
Written in spare, elegant prose whose clarity belies the murkiness of every truth it tells, this is a very clever novel indeed. Even the title is open to at least three interpretations. The story is simple, but full of fine gothic set pieces, including an earthquake, a daredevil ride through a storm, death by sorcery and attempted murder with a snake. There is also, improbably, a dancing goat. Despite all this, and a cast straight out of Rider Haggard, the novel left me dissatisfied. Although intellectually brilliant, it lacks passion and its characters have little depth. I admired it, but did not engage with it on an emotional level.