Monday, October 20, 2008

Starred Q&Q review of Grant Buday's Dragonflies

In the November issue of Quill & Quire, Grant Buday's Dragonflies, a novel about the last days of the Trojan War as told from Odysseus's perspective, received a starred review. This is the second starred review from Q&Q for Biblioasis in as many months. The key things to get from this review: very funny, superbly imagined, beautifully told. Also: a damn good yarn. Fab cover. Need we say more?

The review:

Re-imagining history is popular with novelists at the moment, as evidenced by Fred Stenson’s recent book The Great Karoo, among others. But few make the past come alive as vividly as Vancouver author Grant Buday does in Dragonflies, a very funny book, superbly imagined and beautifully told.

In the sad, desperate last days of the Trojan War, Troy is no closer to falling than it was 10 years before, and the Greeks, reduced to eating limpets, are down to their last sacrificial bulls. Agamemnon gives the clever Odysseus, the “battered old tomcat” who narrates the tale, has a servant to pluck the hairs from his nose, remembers the past, and doubts the present, the task of coming up with one last gambit to win the war.

Dragonflies features many of the Trojan War’s major figures, including Menelaus, Palamedes, and Ajax, but they are not the mythic heroes we have become accustomed to. They are flawed humans lured into fighting by desire, fear, or old oaths. Agamemnon is a clod, thick-necked and hairy, and Calchas the soothsayer, whom Odysseus nicknames “Couch Ass,” is a fraudulent, “ugly old man whose face looks like it’s been carved from an onion.”

Odysseus is a very likeable narrator, but his skill with words can be hurtful and his skepticism gets him into trouble. His suggestion that all of Helen’s suitors swear allegiance to whomever eventually wins her hand avoids conflict in the short term, but only augments the size of Menelaus’s army later on.

A detailed knowledge of Greek myth is not essential to appreciate Buday’s novel, although spotting the occasional Homeric turn of phrase is fun. And the wonderful, tragic irony of Odysseus’s glee at the prospect of being home in a month depends on knowing that his journey is really just beginning. – John Wilson, whose latest book is Germania (Key Porter Books).

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