Originally published: August 2021 (Paperback edition 2 June 2022)
Author: Pat Barker
Published by: Penguin
Length: 320 pages
Reading dates: 11-14 June 2022
Troy has fallen. The Greeks have won their bitter war. They can return home as victors – all they need is a good wind to lift their sails. But the wind has vanished, the seas becalmed by vengeful gods, and so the warriors remain in limbo – camped in the shadow of the city they destroyed, kept company by the women they stole from it.
The women of Troy.
Helen – poor Helen. All that beauty, all that grace – and she was just a mouldy old bone for feral dogs to fight over.
Cassandra, who has learned not to be too attached to her own prophecies. They have only ever been believed when she can get a man to deliver them.
Stubborn Amina, with her gaze still fixed on the ruined towers of Troy, determined to avenge the slaughter of her king.
Hecuba, howling and clawing her cheeks on the silent shore, as if she could make her cries heard in the gloomy halls of Hades. As if she could wake the dead.
And Briseis, carrying her future in her womb: the unborn child of the dead hero Achilles. Once again caught up in the disputes of violent men. Once again faced with the chance to shape history.
Masterful and enduringly resonant, ambitious and intimate, The Women of Troy continues Pat Barker’s extraordinary retelling of one of our greatest classical myths, following on from the critically acclaimed The Silence of the Girls.
The Women of Troy is a sequel to The Silence of the Girls which was released in 2018 and was one of my top reads of 2019. I read The Silence of the Girls for book club and to be honest wasn’t really looking forward to it, thinking it wasn’t my sort of thing. I didn’t know much about the Trojan War before embarking on this series but I absolutely loved it and it ignited in me a love of Greek mythology!
The Women of Troy starts with the famous Trojan horse – we are inside with the Greek soldiers as they wait not knowing if their plan will be successful. When they enter Troy, they slaughter men, women and children. King Priam is slaughtered by Achilles’ son Pyrrhus and the Greek’s are victorious. However, due to constant stormy conditions which they believe are caused by displeased Gods, they are unable to return home.
For the most part, The Women of Troy is narrated by Briseis, who was taken by Achilles for marriage on the defeat of her city and also features strongly in The Silence of the Girls. Upon his death, she is married to Alcimus and is carrying Achilles’ child which gives her an element of respect and protection. Other narrators are Pyrrhus who feels the need to prove himself as the son of the great Achilles and Calchus, the Trojan priest who is trusted by the Greeks but is also seen as an object of disdain.
Conditions are brutal – we hear about the women’s lives in the camp and what happened to them as Troy was taken. There is no romance between the captors and the women slaves but not all the men are cruel. The main plot focusses on the body of King Priam which is left to be picked over by crows – the Trojan women are devastated by this, believing he should be buried so he can continue his journey to the afterlife. When the body of King Priam is found partially buried, Pyrrhus is furious and searches for the person who would dare to do such a thing.
Eventually the Trojan priest Calchus tells the Greek’s that Priam must have a proper burial to appease the God’s so they can finally go home.
Utterly captivating and very readable, Pat Barker has written a brutal and bleak story but The Women of Troy is so good. There are many characters who are terrible but I loved Briseis as a narrator – she spends much of the book travelling between each of the women in the Greek camp, looking out for them as they mourn the loss of their home and families. The one thing I would of found useful is a “cast list” – there are a lot of characters and I sometimes struggled to place who was who and their relationship to others.
Part 3 of this saga is called The Voyage Home and focusses on Cassandra and her marriage to King Agamemnon as they return to Greece. The Voyage Home is due for publication in August 2023 and I can’t wait!
Thank you to Ella at Hamish Hamilton for my gifted finished copy.
About the author:
Pat Barker was born in Thornaby-on-Tees in 1943. She was educated at the London School of Economics and has been a teacher of history and politics.
Her books include the highly acclaimed Regeneration trilogy Regeneration; The Eye in the Door, winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize; and The Ghost Road, winner of the Booker Prize; as well as seven other novels. She’s married and lives in Durham, England.