In The Fall of Troy, Peter Ackroyd goes to
windy Troy in the mid nineteenth century, its ruins crudely exposed to its omen-filled plain. He draws the real Schliemann, Troy’s archeologist, as Obermann, a loud, portly German Romantic digging for the world of Homer and discarding all else to his rubbish heap.
We travel with the new Mrs Obermann and learn of Obermann with her, see him watched by the Turks, helped by his oddball minions, challenged by two moderns, analytical men who can and want to see beyond Homer, let the stones speak for themselves. We see omens in the eagles, owls, wolves, snakes and witness denial, destruction, theft. Large, loud life is exposed as hollow.
Ackroyd takes only Schliemann’s essence. His life is polished to make personal secrets for a short, clear story peppered with melodrama. Homer hovers, but is not relived. We tour his places in crisp words but he is long gone, despite Obermann’s volume.
Can you appreciate the novel without Homer? Perhaps. But the gulf between changing, brooding Achilles and his hollow, wordy champion needs the Poet.
Is Obermann relevant for the fourth century searcher? Think of finding only what you believe already, avoiding the uncomfortable, printing the myth.