- One female and one male lead
I’m a big lover of history, especially ancient history, and whilst my main love will always be ancient Egypt, anything historical always grabs me.
This particular book I didn’t plan to buy, but happened to be browsing in a book shop – always a dangerous game! – and spotted this cover. The art work was particularly beautiful, and when the ancient Greek aspect is added in it becomes even more appealing to me, present tense very much intended, because it grabs me each time I see it.
The book begins fully powered, with no hesitations or build up in regard to easing the reader into the story. With Achilles and his warriors approaching, the women of the city wait, knowing they are getting closer, and knowing they are faced with life changing beyond words. The realities of women in the ancient world – and, sadly, to this day – when it comes to war are often some of the most horrific stories that could be told, if they were to be put into words. And whilst The Illiad is without question a literary work of great importance, the discard shown to the women within it, the fact that it is never mentioned for a moment how they might have felt about watching their lives being torn apart, is an accurate display of the properties the ancient Greeks credited to women. “Properties” being a deliberate choice of word, as that really was what they were considered.
Following the changing in status from queen to chattel and glorified prostitute of Achilles, Briseis tracks her change with an honesty that is both alien in its ancient standard and yet relatable in its familiarity. Whilst we may not have all been victims of war, gratefully, we can all however as women understand completely what it is like to be viewed as less than human by certain men. Many of us have been harassed, abused or assaulted. We have been looked at like we are no more than a slab of meat, and in this way, I could find so much in common with Briseis, however long ago the Trojan war was.
The beauty of Pat Barker’s writing is not only in this relatable style but in the realism of the mindset. So often when you read a book, a character’s interpretation of events goes beyond individual mind workings, and tips over into descriptions that, whilst lovely, are implausible as a thought process. This is never an issue in Barker’s work, and the character definition remains clear.
The book brought me to tears several times, made me furious, and I longed to reach through the pages to hold so many of characters in my arms, and offer them the comfort of modern feminism. It wasn’t a “comfortable” read exactly, knowing that whilst this may be a work of fiction, the things described were realities to ancient sisters. But it was compelling, and beautiful, and heart wrenching. Sometimes, the fact a book does feel more like a slap in the face than a hug is the reason it needs to be read.
9 / 10 ⭐