Considering the Trojan Horse is such a vibrant and lasting image from Greek history and mythology, it’s a little jarring to realize that almost none of the original references have survived. Chronologically, it falls between the cracks of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and all but a few lines of its source poem have been lost. How tempting, then, to try and reconnect these momentous dots: how the ever-crafty Odysseus dreams the contraption up; how he convinces his fellow soldiers to hole up inside, silent, for days on end; and what makes the enemy Trojans bring it inside their city’s walls, rather than do the safe thing and burn it to the ground.
While certainly not the first attempt at such a re-imagining, Dragonflies, the new novel from Mayne Island’s Grant Buday, does an admirable job of it, synthesizing various secondhand accounts (from Virgil, Sophocles, and Homer, to name a few) into one sharp, crisp hybrid.
The book opens in Year 10 of the Trojan War—the last year, as it turns out, though nobody on either side sees an end coming anytime soon. Odysseus’s wit has mostly given way to anger, as his generals Agamemnon and Menelaus oafishly pursue a fight that cannot be won, and a prize (Menelaus’s abducted wife, Helen) that may not even want to be claimed. To console himself, Odysseus indulges in daydreams about his own family back home in Ithaka, which quickly snowball into fantasies of treason: “What reward can compensate for the ten years I’ve lost? Chopping ten years from his [Agamemnon’s] life? Putting a spear up his ass? A futile line of thought, one I indulge too much.”
Climbing inside Odysseus’s head is neat enough—Homer never ventured close to interior monologue—but Buday blocks out the overwhelming clatter and bombast of the war itself long enough to spend time with many of his brothers in arms. Did you know, for example, that the mighty Ajax’s first love is studying bees? That one small detail gives his life more depth, and somehow makes his suicide a little more tragic.
Biblioasis, 180 pp, $19.95, paperback
(review originally appeared in The Georgia Straight, January 29, 2009)
Jan 29, 2009