After reading Pat Barker’s magnificent Silence of the Girls, I wondered how she would follow such a remarkable book especially as Women of Troy, in essence, deals with the same setting and situation. Well, she has written a magnificent sequel.
Essentially, Women of Troy explores the way the women of Troy and those taken captive from other towns that were sacked by the Greek forces, were treated by the victors and how those who survived coped, in what is arguably the most famous war in western myth: The Trojan War.
Silence of the Girls deals with the last months of the ten-year siege and the impact the hubris of the Greek’s greatest hero, Achilles, had on the soldiers and the tragic consequences of his choices. It tells the story from the point of view of Briseis, an enslaved princess who is given to Achilles (after Agamemnon) as a war trophy. The war, whilst ongoing is very much in the background. It’s a powerful, moving novel that gives voice to the silenced, turns those who are largely absent from the history, from the battles, into three dimensional characters who are no less victims of violence than their brothers, husbands, sons and the other men who fall beneath the brutality of Greek blades.
The Women of Troy takes a slightly different approach, fundamentally starting with the city’s fall – when the Greeks pretend to sail away, leaving the most notorious of all gifts at Troy’s gates: a huge wooden horse. Once again, the main point of view is Briseis, but others are also included, namely Achilles’ son, the adolescent Pyrrhus who is struggling to fill his father’s considerable boots. He’s also the man (boy) who slayed not only King Priam, but Andromache’s baby, and also sacrificed a girl to appease the gods. Considered a hero – a title he desperately wants to wear but struggles with as well – he is both feared and held in contempt by wiser, older veterans. With the war won and the Greek soldiers keen to leave the shores that have held them for a decade, preparations commence – that is, until a fierce wind, that can only be gods-sent, arises to keep the fleet and thus the war-weary bickering tribes of men and their female booty land-bound.
As time passes and tensions rise, it’s not only the gods’ wrath the Greeks and their captives have to worry about…
Brilliant, insightful, gut-wrenching in its starkness and recreation of the war and what’s essentially never spoken about – the behind the scenes drudgery, cruelty and sexual and physical exploitation of the women and the psychological and emotional toll this takes, this novel is utterly remarkable and a fantastic companion read to Silence of the Girls. Filled with familiar characters – from Cassandra and Hecuba to Odysseus and Helen, it also introduces lesser known people (women) from the tales these events spawned and their fates.
I’ll never read the Iliad, Aeneid, or the other plays and poems about this epic war and its central characters, the terrible events leading up to it and its aftermath, in the same way again.