Christopher Logue’s War Music: An Account of Homer’s Iliad is more of a re-imagining than a re-telling. Logue writes a version of the Iliad with many of the same characters and conflicts. But he uses the original poem as a skeleton which he fleshes out by stamping his unique mark on it. He deviates from the original; injects personal commentary; inserts references to post-Homeric historical events, including World War II; and endows his characters with a surprisingly modern diction and attitude.
Logue tells his story through some dazzling lines of poetry. He is liberal in his use of fragments, exclamations, repetitions, commands, rhetorical questions, and lines that sizzle and dance. Combat scenes are particularly effective in capturing the intensity of the battle with lines that clip at a rapid pace. He engages his reader by directly addressing him/her as “you” and ordering “you” to shout, to go left, etc. etc. At one point, he tells us of the “Uzi shuddering warm against your hip.” His use of present tense heightens the sense of immediacy and immerses the reader in the events of the poem.
Logue peppers his lines with humor and interesting word choice. A female is “a she”. Athena reminding Zeus about the Trojans’ violation of their oath is described with the following words:
Picking a cotton from his sleeve, "Pa-pa,' Athena said:
This is not fairyland. The Trojans swore an oath
To which You put Your voice.’
‘I did not.’
‘Father, You did. All Heaven heard You. Ask the Sea.’
‘I definitely did not.’
‘Did-did-did-did—and no returns.’
Aphrodite appears dressed in grey silk pajamas with gold piping and “snakeskin flip-flops.” She is referred to later as “The God of Tops and Thongs.” In particularly colorful language, she (Love) reminds Zeus and us why Hera hates the Trojans:
‘Stuff Greece,’ Love said.
‘Your blubber-bummed wife with her gobstopper nipples
Cannot stand Troy because Troy’s Paris put her last
When we stripped off for him.’
Although Christopher Logue did not live long enough to complete this work, what he left us with is a stunning feat of the imagination wrapped in a poem that delights and amazes. The story is Homer’s, but the telling of it is Logue’s. And what a brilliant telling it is!
Very highly recommended.