Author: Natalie Haynes
Genre: Mythology, Historical Fiction, Fiction
Trigger Warning - Forced Marriage, Infant Death, Sexual Abuse, Violence, Violence Against Children
Disclaimer – This book was read in the ARC* form. There may be some differences in this version than from what appears in other copies of this book.
Publication: January 2021
Worthy of the Women's Prize for Fiction that it was short-listed for, this retelling of the Trojan War shares the voices that were forgotten (or ignored) through history. From humans to goddesses, Haynes tells the stories of the women who lived through that trying time and the effect that they had on the men and the world around them. Live through the lives of these different women who experienced a variety of hardships before, during, and after the great war. And along with the beautiful writing, those short narratives make the reader feel as if you've experienced a lifetime through them.
In-Depth Review (contains spoilers)
With nearly every chapter being the perspective of a different woman, we travel all over the lands during this time. We see the shame put upon the queens and princesses along with the burdens on the shoulders of the common women. And of course there are also the goddesses who treat humans like playthings but are still controlled by the male gods they serve. Three reoccurring narratives pull all the stories together. There is the Trojan Women who just watched their home be destroyed, Penelope who writes letters to her missing husband, and Calliope, the Muse of epics.
Each tell a version of this history. Penelope spends her days writing letters to Odysseus and wishing for him to return. Describing how their land changes, their son grows, and the songs that the bards sing of her husband just goes to show how devoted she is to him. But it also shows her strength to be able to bare the loneliness and push away suitors in the hopes that Odysseus would return someday. She may be meek, but she is resilient.
The Trojan Women also have their own form of strength but theirs are built from first-hand loss. They are forced to survive or follow the path of their late husbands and sons. Most still fight for life even if that means a life of slavery. Andromache in particular originally begged for death alongside her infant son, Astyanax. But when the Greeks refused her wish she instead adapted and managed to create a life alongside Neoptolemus, a man she would never love but become a companion of.
And then there is Calliope. Her strength lays in her fight for the voice of others. She declares that it is now time for the women to share their stories along with the men. That in itself is so poetic and befitting a muse. I pictured that Calliope closely watched the events that took place and made herself to remeber every detail. Then over the years she observed as the men were honored and revered as great heros while some of the real heros were the women. And now she has had enough of their boasting. As stated in the book, the Trojan War was the women's war just as much as the men's and they deserve to have their tales told.
Perhaps, one of my favorite aspects was that everyone hated Helen. They could not beleive how they had been a part of such a prolonged war for her. When I originally read the stories of the Trojan War, I could never understand why those series of events made sense but I loved that it didn't make sense to these women either.
Another fascinating aspect were the parts of the deities. No one can say whether or not they may have existed and played a part in these stories. But as far as we know they may have. It could have been simple human action that led to the war or it could have been more powerful beings toying with our world. It shows that gods and goddesses could be just as human as we are.
This book has grown to be a favorite of mine. It takes a story told many times over in many different forms and creates it anew. I've read other pieces that try to give credit to the participation of the women in the war, but this book trumps them all. There is just a level of depth that Haynes is able to achieve that you can feel the love and pain these women experienced. And you want nothing but to help them during their struggle. But you know too well that so few survive in the end. If you want to read a story of a great war from the perspective of the many women who are barely referenced in it's history, then this book is for you.
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*ARC, or Advance Reading Copy, is a pre-published, nearly complete version of a new book that is given out before the official release date. The aim is to gain reviews that can coincide with the launching and to get booksellers interested in selling the book. It is normal for there to be changes from the ARC to the actual published copy since this form is an uncorrected proof.