Review: The Women of Troy by Pat Barker

This is a fabulous continuation of Pat Barker’s feminist retelling of Homer’s Iliad, although given my elementary knowledge of Greek mythology and history, “The Silence of the Girls” and “The Women of Troy” are forming my baselines on the subject. I’m interested to see how my eventual reading of Homer’s text is shaped by my reading of Barker’s interpretation first. 

The opening is powerfully visceral. “Inside the horse’s gut: heat, darkness, sweat, fear. They’re crammed in, packed as tight as olives in a jar.” Achilles’ son Pyrrhus, desperate to live up to the reputation of his dead father, sits alongside his fellow Greek soldiers as the Trojans wheel the gigantic wooden horse into the city of Troy. 

We know the rest — the war is soon over. But an endless storm prohibits the Greek ships returning home; impossible winds gathered by the Gods to punish Pyrrhus’s sacriligous slaying of the Trojan king Priam in front of an altar. And so tensions within the siege camp begin to simmer.

It’s here we again meet the narrator of “The Silence of the Girls,” Briseis; pregnant with the child of Achilles, handed down to Alcimus upon his death, trying to survive and retain some sense of individual sovereignty in a world that wants to reduce her to a plaything of man. Staying under the radar would be the prudent course: but when a young slave named Amina decides to stop at nothing to properly bury Priam, Briseis’s intervention plants her firmly in Pyrrhus’s vengeful sights. 

Barker leaves you with the sense of having read something rich and complex, but her economical prose bestows a wonderful accessibility and pace to her narrative. I want thousands more pages; I want to know how Briseis’s story ends — or how Barker imagines it does. 

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