The Women of Troy is the second of the Trojan War novels by Pat Barker, telling the post-war story of Trojan woman Briseis, a trophy of war owned by Achilles. I loved the first, The Silence of the Girls, but wanted to hear the stories of more of the women. That’s what we get in this second book. Briseis, now pregnant with Achilles’ child, is again narrator along with a new male voice, that of Pyrrhus, eldest son of Achilles and Briseis’ stepson. Now Achilles is dead Briseis belongs to Alcimus, charged by Achilles before his death with caring for his unborn child.
The story starts with Pyrrhus inside the wooden horse, constructed by the Greeks, to trick the Trojans. ‘Inside the horse’s gut: heat, darkness, sweat, fear. They’re crammed in, packed as tight as olives in a jar.’ It is Pyrrhus who kills Priam, king of the Trojans, and that murder echoes throughout The Women of Troy. As storms rage – punishment of the victorious Greeks by the Gods for their impious behaviour – the army and its captives are now trapped on the beach waiting for a chance to sail home. This enclosure at close quarters raises emotions, tensions, jealousies and pride. As Alcimus arranges games – chariot racing, archery, spear throwing, wrestling – Briseis acts as a mother-figure for the other women, all now slaves.
Barker explores the after-effects of war on the Trojan women during these empty days – Hecuba, widow of Priam, and Cassandra, her daughter; Andromache, wife of Hector now concubine to Pyrrhus – high-born Trojan women now slaves in the households of their Greek victors, as concubines, whores, cooks and housemaids.
The story is about survival on the edge of despair when women are secondary creatures deemed without opinions or rights, exploring how women individually and collectively find ways to live. There is bravery, despair, foolishness, obsession and madness. When the actions of Pyrrhus are questioned, Briseis must remember the events of one night when Achilles was alive. ‘Both of us [Briseis and Cassandra, another witness] were women – and a woman’s testimony is not considered equal to a man’s. In a court of law, if a man and woman disagree it’s almost invariably his version of events that’s accepted. And that’s in a courtroom – how much more so in this camp where all the women were Trojan slaves and the only real law was force.’
But this is also the story of Pyrrhus, a young man who struggles to match the reputation of a father he never felt close to, a father lauded as a God. These were brutal times when small mistakes were punished by death and Pyrrhus, who has few friends, takes risks and makes bad decisions.
This book works as a standalone story as well as companion to The Silence of the Girls. Both are magnificent examples of storytelling by an author at the peak of her writing. Faithful to the myths, Barker is an inventive writer who adds her own interpretations and twists.
Excellent, I whizzed through this in no time. Will there be a third novel? I hope so.
BUY THE BOOK
Read my reviews of other Pat Barker novels:-
LIFE CLASS [#1 LIFE CLASS TRILOGY]
TOBY’S ROOM [#2 LIFE CLASS TRILOGY]
NOONDAY [#3 LIFE CLASS TRILOGY]
BLOW YOUR HOUSE DOWN
THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS
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