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The Women of Troy


The Women of Troy

Pat Barker picks up from THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS with her latest novel, THE WOMEN OF TROY. In this most recent entry, Troy has fallen. The women have been seized, like spoils, by the Greek soldiers. Objectively speaking, not much happens during this time. In this liminal stretch of the war’s aftermath, Troy has been sacked, but the Greeks are unable to sail home. As the Trojan women mourn husbands and fathers and sons, they await their uncertain fates.

Nowhere is Barker’s control over the written word more evident than it is in this book. Her writing is quiet and beautiful. She stops herself short of falling into the melodrama often associated with classical myth retellings, and instead opts for an approach that imbues the action-oriented tale with an emotional depth that lends more humanity to THE ILIAD.

"Nowhere is Barker’s control over the written word more evident than it is in this book. Her writing is quiet and beautiful."

We follow the traumatized, grieving women through the pits of their despair, across fields of resentment, and through the depths of their anger, fear and humiliation. We feel their powerlessness as we watch them suffer through individually complicated responses to their enslavement.

However, powerless as they may be, the women of Troy are granted one immense gift. In this retelling, history is not written by the victors. It is written by them. Through these women, Barker fleshes out the dissonance between how the Greek men see themselves and how they are seen. This becomes a captivating tug-of-war between perspectives, as the hubris and bravado of the Greeks are filtered through the lens of the unimpressed and often disgusted female gaze.

Perhaps the loudest voice in this novel, as in its precursor, is that of Briseis. This second installment remains, largely, her story. Now pregnant with Achilles’ child and married off to Alcimus, she has become a woman of status. Even though she is no longer a slave, she navigates her connection with the recently enslaved women. We, the readers, bear witness, and she attempts to bring them together and forge alliances between them --- to give them a chance at power she never had.

This is not to say that the book is without action, nor is it without the male perspective. The anxiety of peace can be as unsteadying as the outright violence of war, and Barker brilliantly juxtaposes the voices of her female cast with brief insights into male perspectives. For example, we follow Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, from the confines of his own mind, obsessed with military heroism and drunk on the idea of fulfilling his father’s legacy. This is immediately pitted against the women’s perspective of him. While Pyrrhus fancies him a hero worthy of his father’s blood, to his female audience he is nothing more than a blood-stained boy desperate to prove that he is as monstrous as his father before him.

This is a quieter book than THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS, but a more reflective one. It teases apart the dynamic between actor and observer, man and woman, captor and captive, in a way that prompts serious thought not only into the classics but into more recent history, and even into our everyday communications.

Reviewed by Kayla Provencher on September 17, 2021

The Women of Troy
by Pat Barker

  • Publication Date: September 6, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • ISBN-10: 0593311329
  • ISBN-13: 9780593311325