Hello hello and welcome or welcome back to my little bookish corner of the internet. Today I’m sharing with you my review of The Women of Troy by Pat Barker, which I had as an ARC via NetGalley. I absolutely loved her previous book, The Silence of the Girls, and was interested to see what would come next in this telling of the tale of Troy from the perspectives of the women who suffered.
Troy has fallen. The Greeks have won their bitter war. They can return home as victors, loaded with their spoils: their stolen gold, stolen weapons, stolen women. All they need is a good wind to lift their sails.
But the wind does not come. The gods have been offended – the body of Trojan king Priam lies desecrated, unburied – and so the victors remain in limbo, camped in the shadow of the city they destroyed, pacing at the edge of an unobliging sea. And, in these empty, restless days, the hierarchies that held them together begin to fray, old feuds resurface and new suspicions fester.
Amidst her squabbling captors, Briseis — now married to Alcimus, but carrying the child of the late Achilles — must forge alliances where she can: with young, dangerously naïve Amina, with defiant, aged Hecuba, and with wild-eyed Cassandra, the unheeded seer. And so begins the path to a kind of revenge. Briseis has survived the Trojan War, but peacetime may turn out to be even more dangerous…
There’s been a wave of books in recent years who have – finally – looked at the realities of the situation of circumstances like the aftermarth of Troy from the perspective of women. I’ve read as many of them as I can handle because, although they’re not easy reading, they’re important reading. Classics is finally starting to shift from being almost entirely male-dominated and dictated to being a bit more equal, and a bit more realistic. Prior to these books, it’s been very easy for people to discuss characters like Helen by simply calling her a whore and leaving it at that; to discuss the rape of hundreds of women and murder of hundreds of children by calling it war. Now, finally, we are starting to talk about what that really means.
Maybe it’s because of the current war footage we’re seeing that makes these conversations start, but whatever it is, they need to keep happening.
While this might be a work of fiction, it is well researched, and takes so much of its basis from the now factual and archaeological evidence of the Trojan war. Just before the pandemic closed everything down, I went to a display at the British Museum about Troy, actually, and it was both wonderful and horrifying all at once.
Within these pages, we see women faced with the most difficult of decisions, and the most brutal of situations, yet Pat Barker still manages to bring a beauty to her work that is a skill that very few possess. It’s a set of scales with brutality and beauty lining up for all to see. It’s not an exaggeration to say this book made me cry multiple times; the power of emotion that Barker navigates through the book is incredible, and is a sheer work of art.
I listened to this as an audiobook via NetGalley and the performance was utterly brilliant. This is the kind of book that should be performed for high impact, and the narrator and author work together in perfect sympathy for the other; it’s utterly outstanding.