It is the late-14th century, a time beset by war and plague. Nicholas Barber, a young cleric, abandons his post in the church and joins a troupe of travelling performers. The players re-enact the murder of a young boy, but as they rehearse they discover the truth has yet to be revealed.
“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.
From the Hardcover edition.
Winner of the 1992 Booker Prize for Fiction
Sacred Hunger is a stunning and engrossing exploration of power, domination, and greed. Filled with the "sacred hunger" to expand its empire and its profits, England entered full into the slave trade and spread the trade throughout its colonies. In this Booker Prize-winning work, Barry Unsworth follows the failing fortunes of William Kemp, a merchant pinning his last chance to a slave ship; his son who needs a fortune because he is in love with an upper-class woman; and his nephew who sails on the ship as its doctor because he has lost all he has loved. The voyage meets its demise when disease spreads among the slaves and the captain's drastic response provokes a mutiny. Joining together, the sailors and the slaves set up a secret, utopian society in the wilderness of Florida, only to await the vengeance of the single-minded, young Kemp.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Barry Unsworth returns to the terrain of his Booker Prize-winning novel Sacred Hunger, this time following Sullivan, the Irish fiddler, and Erasmus Kemp, son of a Liverpool slave ship owner who hanged himself. It is the spring of 1767, and to avenge his father's death, Erasmus Kemp has had the rebellious sailors of his father's ship, including Sullivan, brought back to London to stand trial on charges of mutiny and piracy. But as the novel opens, a blithe Sullivan has escaped and is making his way on foot to the north of England, stealing as he goes and sleeping where he can.
His destination is Thorpe in the East Durham coalfields, where his dead shipmate, Billy Blair, lived: he has pledged to tell the family how Billy met his end.
In this village, Billy's sister, Nan, and her miner husband, James Bordon, live with their three sons, all destined to follow their father down the pit. The youngest, only seven, is enjoying his last summer aboveground.
Meanwhile, in London, a passionate anti-slavery campaigner, Frederick Ashton, gets involved in a second case relating to the lost ship. Erasmus Kemp wants compensation for the cargo of sick slaves who were thrown overboard to drown, and Ashton is representing the insurers who dispute his claim. Despite their polarized views on slavery, Ashton's beautiful sister, Jane, encounters Erasmus Kemp and finds herself powerfully attracted to him.
Lord Spenton, who owns coal mines in East-Durham, has extravagant habits and is pressed for money. When he applies to the Kemp merchant bank for a loan, Erasmus sees a business opportunity of the kind he has long been hoping for, a way of gaining entry into Britain's rapidly developing and highly profitable coal and steel industries.
Thus he too makes his way north, to the very same village that Sullivan is heading for . . .
With historical sweep and deep pathos, Unsworth explores the struggles of the powerless and the captive against the rich and the powerful, and what weight mercy may throw on the scales of justice.
For five hundred years a statue of the Madonna has watched over Venice. Now, dulled by time and pollution, she is prepared for restoration. As Simon Raikes immerses himself in the painstaking task of cleaning and repairing, he is inexorably drawn to the stories of violence and lust which have surrounded this stone virgin.
Simon’s investigations lead him to Chiara Litsov, the wife of a renowned sculptor. A dangerous attraction develops between them and it appears inevitable that once again the stone virgin will bear witness to passion, betrayal and murder.
Barry Unsworth, a writer with an “almost magical capacity for literary time travel” (New York Times Book Review) has the extraordinary ability to re-create the past and make it relevant to contemporary readers. In Land of Marvels, a thriller set in 1914, he brings to life the schemes and double-dealings of Western nations grappling for a foothold in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire.
Somerville, a British archaeologist, is excavating a long-buried Assyrian palace. The site lies directly in the path of a new railroad to Baghdad, and he watches nervously as the construction progresses, threatening to destroy his discovery. The expedition party includes Somerville’s beautiful, bored wife, Edith; Patricia, a smart young graduate student; and Jehar, an Arab man-of-all-duties whose subservient manner belies his intelligence and ambitions. Posing as an archaeologist, an American geologist from an oil company arrives one day and insinuates himself into the group. But he’s not the only one working undercover to stake a claim on Iraq’s rich oil fields.
Historical fiction at its finest, Land of Marvels opens a window on the past and reveals its lasting impact.
Golden Umbria is home to breathtaking scenery and great art; it is also where Hannibal and his invading band of Carthaginians ambushed and slaughtered a Roman legion, and where the local place-names still speak of that bloodshed.
Unsworth's contemporary invaders include the Greens, a retired American couple seeking serenity among the Umbrian hills, who are bilked out of their savings by the corrupt English "building expert" Stan Blemish; the Chapmans, a British property speculator and his wife, whose dispute with their neighbors over a wall escalates into a feud of nearly medieval proportions; Anders Ritter, a German haunted by the part his father played in a mass killing of Italian hostages in Rome during the Second World War; and Fabio and Arturo, a gay couple who, searching for peace and self-sufficiency, find treachery instead. And at the center of all these webs of deceit and greed is the cunning lawyer Mancini, happy to aid the disputants--and to exploit to the fullest the faith that these "innocents abroad" have placed in him.
"His keen understanding of history and legend...illuminate[s] his visits." —Publishers Weekly
"A vivid picture of the island." —Associated Press
"It is hard to think of anywhere on earth where so many firsts and mosts are crammed into a space so small," Barry Unsworth writes of the isle of Crete. Birthplace of the Greek god Zeus, the Greek alphabet, and the first Greek laws, as well as the home of 15 mountain ranges and the longest gorge in Europe, this land is indisputably unique. And since ancient times, its inhabitants have maintained an astonishing tenacity and sense of national identity, even as they suffered conquest and occupation by Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Venetians, Ottoman Turks, and Germans.
Throughout this evocative book, now in trade paper, Unsworth describes the incredible physical and cultural proportions of the island—in history, myth, and reality. Moving and artful, Crete gives readers a comprehensive picture and rich understanding of this complex—and indeed, almost magical—world of Mediterranean wonders.
With the same keen eye and clear, eloquent prose that distinguishes his acclaimed historical novels, Barry Unsworth delivers his readers a two-fold traveler's reward, at once a wonderfully detailed panorama of Crete's many layers of history and an evocative portrait of an island almost literally larger than life.
Barry Unsworth’s Losing Nelson is a novel of obsession, the story of a man unable to see himself separately from the hero he mistakenly idolizes Admiral Lord Nelson. Charles Cleasby is, in fact, a Nelson biographer run amok. He is convinced that Nelson—Britain's greatest admiral, who finally defeated Napoleon, and lost his own life, in the Battle of Trafalgar—is the perfect hero, but in his research he has come upon an incident of horrifying brutality in Nelson's military career that simply stumps all attempts at glorification.