Tuesday, August 31, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: The Women of Troy by Pat Barker

 I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

Why do I keep reading heart-breaking retellings of the Fall of Troy? Do I imagine the ending will change?

The latest edition to the genre is Pat Barker’s The Women of Troy, a sequel to her earlier work, The Silence of the Girls. I haven’t read book one, but the overall story is familiar enough that book two can stand alone. The Women of Troy picks up the saga in the immediate aftermath of Troy’s fall, telling the story primarily from Briseis’ viewpoint. (I was a bit disconcerted that the novel starts off from the viewpoint of Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, and several chapters unfold in his perspective. This helps the story along, but it was not ‘the women’s story’ the way A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes was.)

After the episode with the Trojan Horse and the destruction of Troy, the Greeks are eager to sail for home with their loot, which includes the newly enslaved female population of Troy. Briseis, who had been Achilles’ war prize, and who is carrying his child, is now married to Lord Alcimus, so her status has risen to that of a wife. It’s not much of a promotion, but at least she is allowed to roam about at will, unlike the other women who are captives.

The Greeks are also, to some extent, captive. Having offended the gods in myriad ways during the orgy of destruction during the capture of Troy, they are now confined to the beach by ceaseless strong winds that prevent them from sailing away. Without a Trojan enemy to fight, old factions and quarrels are renewed. 

One of the worst of the Greeks is Pyrrhus. He is accorded some respect as Achilles’ son and as one of the heroes of the sack of Troy, having killed old King Priam. None of his fellows is aware of the cowardly way he botched the killing, since he boasts of having done it heroically. Pyrrhus is bitter, indecisive, and insecure, aware that he can’t match his godlike father. He makes up for it by lying, drinking excessively, and bullying those around him.

Briseis, in contrast, is kind, generous, and self-confident, using her position to help the other women where she can. Briseis is a survivor, who makes the best of whatever position she finds herself in. 

It’s a fine re-telling. Briseis is a good choice for a new narrator of the timeless story.

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