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The defeat of Troy by the Greek armies – historical fiction at its best

25th September 2021

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker, historical fiction at its best.

historical fiction at its best

The Women of Troy is a raw and violent book – very much of the time in which it takes place, 1184 BC. Troy has been captured and the Greek armies are ready to set sail back to their homeland. Most of the men of Troy have been killed, and the Greeks will take with them a large number of the women – some are married to Greek warriors, some become slaves. It is a cruel world in which the winner takes all. Destinies are reversed. The weather, though, is not kind to the Greeks. A gale blows from sea to land for days / weeks on end and it is impossible to sail. They fear the wrath of the gods, but they are not sure what they have done to incur it.

Most of the book takes place in the various Greek encampments along the beach as they wait for the weather to change. The men are bored and frustrated. Violence is never far away. The captured women exist in very difficult circumstances, quite different to those they are used to. The book focuses on six of them:

Helen, a sad parody of the former beauty – now married to (and abused by) Menelaus, the King of Sparta. Her life is in tatters.

Cassandra, a priestess cursed to utter true prophecies but never to be believed – unless she gets a man to utter them.

Amina, a young lady whose mission is to bury the exposed and mutilated body of her King, Priam against specific Greek orders

Hecuba the former wife of Priam who is going quite mad.

Andromache, who witnessed the murder of her baby and is now the sex slave of Pyrrhus (the 16 year of son of the slain Achilles, the greatest warrior of his time – struggling to follow in his father’s footsteps);

And finally Briseis, 19 years old.  She is pregnant with the child of Achilles, and now married to his chief advisor, Acimus.

The relationships are pretty complicated – and there is much intrigue.

What is so brilliant about Pat Barker’s writing is that she makes the situation very real. The characters (some of them pretty nasty) are all believable. You get sucked into the gratuitous and violent horror of the place. Yet there are examples of real friendships, people struggling against fate and the wind. Pat writes quite beautifully.

I read The Iliad at school, and thus know a little about the people and times that The Women of Troy is based on. I do, though, worry how someone without even that basic knowledge would manage the book. It is very complex and could be confusing. A comprehensive ‘Who is Who’ could be a useful addition to refer back to as you read.

A really good book, and highly recommended for lovers of well written historic fiction.

Tony for the TripFiction team

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Enter the 2021TripFiction 'Sense of Place' Creative Writing Competition!

A story in which the location plays as important a role as the rest of your words.

2,500 word maximum, 750 word minimum

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Prizes total £1,750 / US$2,362 

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