I started this post back in April, but life (and “Fare”) got in the way and I didn’t get it finished. But today I discovered that Christopher Logue died recently, and so the great project that triggered this post originally will never be completed.
The book that triggered the post was Christopher Logue’s amazing War Music. It is mind-blowingly brilliant. Filmic, page-devouringly readable, and gloriously musical. It begins:
Picture the east Aegean sea by night,
And on a beach aslant its shimmering
Upwards of 50,000 men
Asleep like spoons beside their lethal Fleet.
It’s a retelling of three parts (books 1-4 and 16-19) of Homer’s The Iliad, the story of the Siege of Troy. Logue didn’t read Greek (ancient or modern), but was persuaded to make the initial attempt by someone who was a scholar of the relevant period, and who essentially provided him with crib sheets and other people’s translations. And from this, he constructed the most readable recap of this slice of ancient history you’re ever likely to read.
The first part he wrote was published as War Music: An Account of Books 16-19 of Homer’s “Iliad” in 1981. Then he leaped backwards in the story and came up with Kings: An Account of Books 1 and 2 of Homer’s “Iliad”, and then The Husbands: An Account of Books 3 and 4 of Homer’s “Iliad”, published in 1991 and 1995 respectively. My volume collects the three in chronological (rather than publication) order, which certainly made it easy to follow the story. How good were they? Well I stayed up all night reading because I couldn’t put them down until I was finished. And as soon as I did finish, I went online to track down and order the next two – All Day Permanent Red and Cold Calls . (Yes, still in the wee small hours!)
He was working on what was to be the final installment of the sequence (series? Epic?) when he died. Drat him! Why couldn’t he have held on a little longer, and waited until at least a complete draft was finished? How inconsiderate!
Seriously though, get your hands on a copy of War Music. It’s available in plenty of libraries (check World Cat for a copy near you). Even if you’ve never read Homer, or thought that the Trojan War was a battle between condom manufacturers, this book will still blow you away. (Possibly not the best choice of phrase, in retrospect.) Hell, even if you’re history buff who doesn’t read poetry, read this!