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The Women of Troy by Pat Barker

The Trojan War has left destruction in its wake. The city is defeated, its men have been murdered, and the women enslaved. But the Greek victors are stuck in their camps as the storm is too violent to ensure a safe journey home. Are these winds a sign from the Gods? What code have they broken in their war? Briseis is our main narrator. Pregnant with the Greek’s hero Achilles’ child whose prize she was before he died. Married off to Alcimus for protections – a kind man for warrior standards – she escaped slavery and moves freely among the Greeks but never seizes seeing herself as a Trojan woman. Cautious for the sake of her own survival, she rebels against the Greek rule in little ways wherever she can. Through her, we meet famous women of classic mythology: Helen, of course, Andromache, and the seer Cassandra – cursed to be disbelieved unless she can get a man to proclaim her predictions. Both Greeks and Trojans seek to solve the mystery of the angered Gods and in her search for answers and justice, the women put themselves at risk.

The Women of Troy is perhaps the silence after the storm that was (presumably, according to reviews) the first book The Silence of the Girls, which I haven’t yet read. Reading the novels in order doesn’t seem to be necessary, as setting and characters are introduced in enough detail to know what is going on. This retelling of the Iliad focuses on the experiences of women that have been mostly side-lined in the classical works. While this concept is one I generally enjoy in historical fiction, I am not entirely convinced by Pat Barker’s execution, which failed to fully captivate me. Barker’s writing is fast-paced and pleasant to read – though sometimes the very English vulgarity seemed slightly misplaced to me – but for most of the book I thought The Women of Troy lacked in plot. I am not sure if a third book in the series is coming, but the novel reads like the second instalment in a trilogy – bridging a first and third book, rather than being developing the most interesting storyline in its own right. Those more passionate about Greek mythology might have felt more at home in this book, but with my limited knowledge of the Iliad I found the amount of characters slightly overwhelming. There were a lot of names and relations to remember, a chart might have been helpful. Finally, for a women-centred retelling I found the portrayal of some of the women, Helen in particular, too marked by internalised misogyny. It was difficult for me to tell whether that was a conscious decision to stay true to the period the story is set in, or whether biases of the author became visible in those instances. I realise that this review sounds quite negative, but while I was disappointed with some aspects of the execution The Women of Troy is an enjoyable, easy read, to finish in a sitting or two over a relaxing weekend.

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