‘The Women of Troy’ by Pat Barker

Thanks to Penguin UK and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

‘The Women of Troy’ is a direct sequel to Barker’s 2018 ‘The Silence of the Girls’. Euripides’ ‘Trojan Women’ is probably my favourite Greek tragedy, so I was slightly miffed that Briseis is again the main character and narrator of this story seeing as she isn’t in the ‘original’. I guess I don’t find Briseis the most compelling character that the book could have focused on, but I imagine Barker wanted to continue where she started so here we are.

For anyone unfamiliar with the story, The Women of Troy tells the story of the Trojan women after the defeat of Troy in the Trojan War. The characters you would expect to be here are present, Hecuba, Andromache, Helen and Cassandra, and a few new insertions including most notably Amina, a slave girl. The book makes no bones about the women’s desperate situation and the degradation of their surroundings and situation. Barker’s choice of language is deliberately brutal and sometimes crude with the sometimes rather incongruous use of modern dialogue present in the first book. There is little room for joy here, this is a tale of the horrors of war

Some of the characterisations jarred a bit for me. Andromache, consumed by grief for her lost husband and child was portrayed well although she felt a bit one dimensional and weak at times. I definitely would have liked to see more from Hecuba, she is such an iconic character and the heart of the original and her rage felt muted here through her lack of presence in the story. The character of Amina felt to me like a riff on Antigone, with an extremely similar story. I am not convinced that her inclusion really added anything to the story to be honest.

Maybe the baggage of such a well-known tale compounded by my own love for this particular story has made me overly picky. I personally felt that despite this being a story about the female victims of war, much of it felt centred on the men. The ghost of Achilles, in particular, hangs over everyone. I’m sure this is deliberate, but it struck me as a bit strange in such a female-focused story.

It’s a Pat Barker book so it is already going to be of a higher calibre than lots of other books and mythology reimaginings so these points are niggles to me rather than serious criticism

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