The Women of Troy – Pat Barker

The Women of Troy

The sequel to The Silence of the Girls was always going to suffer by comparison in the action stakes. The immediate period after the violent sacking of Troy is marked by inertia – the Greeks are literally stuck waiting for the wind to change and allow them home. It is once again a marker of Barker’s brilliance that she uses this lack of freedom to heighten the sense of claustrophobia, and the idea that this has perhaps been a pyrrhic victory of sorts. The winners aren’t looking so lucky right now.

Achilles is dead – removing in part some of the main energy of The Silence of the Girls – but his presence is felt keenly, not least by his son, Pyrrhus, whose unpredictable moods and violence dominate this second novel. As the dying Priam says, “Achilles’ son? You? You’re nothing like him.” And it is those who are subject to the whims of his anger who know it fully. Briseis, now wife of Alcimus and pregnant with Achilles’ child, finds herself caught up in the politics of revenge and survival, and acknowledging that she will do whatever it takes to live.

The silent girls of the first novel are now the captives of the Greeks and (most) have found their voices. We hear them singing ribald songs; we hear them keening over their losses, and we hear them collaborating with each other in an attempt to live their new lives. We’re reminded brutally of how vulnerable they are (even the much-hated Helen), but we see a strength in the ways they are surviving cheek by jowl with their captors. There is no opportunity for glorious death here – in one scene Briseis realises the Trojan women aren’t even counted as people – but there are small moments of retaliation and resistance. And whilst it inevitably doesn’t have the narrative drive of the first novel, it is an intense and poignant addition to the Trojan story.

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