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Book review: The Women of Troy by Pat Barker

I have to admit I’ve become a bit of a Pat Barker fan in the past few years, having read her Regeneration trilogy and now her two novels about the war of Troy, The Silence of the Girls and The Women of Troy.

The latter takes up the story of Achilles’ slave girl, Briseis, who became the mother of his son after Achilles’ death.

A retelling of ancient myth, this novel is about loyalty, fear and power.

Beginning in the belly of the Trojan horse, Barker evokes the fear and doubts held by Achilles’ son as he fought to make a name for himself under his father’s shadow.

The story might be familiar, but Barker’s novel brings a whole new perspective of the heart of the battle and that famous trickery.

However, ultimately, it is about one woman’s experience of a very masculine war, and how she might have used her own small power.

Barker’s retelling is very different to Madeline Miller’s interpretation of mythology in Circe and The Song of Achilles, and having recently read the second of the two, I had difficulty not comparing Barker’s books with Miller’s.

Ultimately, I felt that Miller’s were more emotionally-led, while Barker’s were more matter-of-fact. In The Women of Troy, I could smell the stink of the camp and feel the abrasiveness of the sand whipped up by the unrelenting wind that prevented the soldiers from returning home. I felt the sense of unease in the camp among the frustrated soldiers, and the danger in the youth, naivete and desire for power of Achilles’ son.

Barker powerfully evoked the place and the characters, bringing a different place and time to life.

It is well worth reading The Silence of the Girls and The Women of Troy to gain a new perspective on a very old story.

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