The Songs of the Kings
By Barry Unsworth
(Nan A. Talese, Hardcover, 9780385501149, 352pp.)
Publication Date: March 18, 2003
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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“Troy meant one thing only to the men gathered here, as it did to their commanders. Troy was a dream of wealth; and if the wind continued the dream would crumble.”
As the harsh wind holds the Greek fleet trapped in the straits at Aulis, frustration and political impotence turn into a desire for the blood of a young and innocent woman – blood that will appease the gods and allow the troops to set sail. And when Iphigeneia, Agamemnon’s beloved daughter, is brought to the coast under false pretences, and when a knife is fashioned out of the finest and most precious of materials, it looks as if the ships will soon be on their way. But can a father really go to these lengths to secure political victory, and can a daughter willingly give up her life for the worldly ambitions of her father?
Throwing off the heroic values we expect of them, Barry Unsworth’s mythic characters embrace the political ethos of the twenty-first century and speak in words we recognize as our own. The blowhard Odysseus warns the men to not “marginalize” Agamemnon and to “strike while the bronze is hot.” High-sounding principles clash with private motives, and dark comedy ensues. Here is a novel that stands the world on its head.
BARRY UNSWORTH won the Booker Prize for his novel Sacred Hunger and is also the author of Losing Nelson, After Hannibal, and the international bestseller Morality Play. He lives in Italy.
"The updating of a classic is risky: it can be a hollow conceit, like a duff production of Shakespeare in modern dress. In Barry Unsworth’s hands, the venture turns to pure gold. This novel is a resounding success, clever, funny, provocative, erudite... [It] is one of the best books by this most versatile of writers."– Penelope Lively
"The Songs of the Kings is an “elegant, profound and wonder-provoking book. Unsworth’s writing is unrivaled, he gets better and better, and his versatility is breathtaking. His novels are close to perfect in an imperfect literary world."– Ruth Rendell
"... intellectually agile, thrillingly stylish...The Songs of the Kings effortlessly proves that modern life is the stuff of ancient myth."
"The Songs of the Kings is a beautifully measured entertainment given gravity by how accurately it reflects the present political zeal to control the media."– The Independent
"Unsworth’s story never falters..."– The [London] Times
"[The Songs of the Kings] is brilliantly told. This short, sharp tale deserves to be on the shelves of revisionists and purists alike."