A richly rewarding sequel, The Women of Troy offers a further bold and necessary reinterpretation of an ancient tale while at the same time chronicling the next dramatic chapter in Briseis' untold story ... The narrative is at its most absorbing when Briseis is on the page and observing the scheming and infighting among the Greek men and the resilience and bravery of the Trojan women. She is a wonderful creation. With luck, Barker is already planning her next move.
In this sequel...Barker has stepped free of the masculinist epic tradition ... This is a story not of conflict but of its aftermath. It is grim ... Barker’s language in this new book is plain, crude and modern ... Blunt and brutal, this kind of language fits with the intent, shared by Barker and her spokesperson, Briseis, to tell truths about violence and slavery without the prettiness of costume drama or the mollifying varnish of a literary high style ... Clearly and simply told, with no obscurities of vocabulary or allusion, this novel reads sometimes like a retelling for children of the legend of Troy, but its conclusions are for adults – merciless, stripped of consoling beauty, impressively bleak.
Pyrrhus sometimes appears in Greek literature as a callow but good-hearted youth. Barker has the excellent idea of making him a teen-age bully whose swagger barely conceals an inferiority complex ... There are also some fine and original touches in Barker’s reimagining of the mythic women ... The most fully realized of Barker’s Trojan women—one you wish had a bigger role—is Hecuba. Andromache is too noble to be truly gripping; Cassandra too nutty ... But the fierce Hecuba—a character who in the Iliad declares her wish to eat Achilles’ liver raw—is catnip to Barker, whose portrayal of her has something of the humor and the vividness that distinguish 'Union Street.' Here, the harrowed widow of myth and drama is profane ...She holds your attention whenever she appears—far more than the bland Briseis ever doe ... Too often, Briseis sounds like the voice-over from a History Channel special ... The Women of Troy” really works only when Barker forgets about the ancient models for her story ... Paradoxically, this departure from tradition happens to be the most authentically 'Greek' thing about the book ... Barker wants to impose her modern concerns onto this very ancient material. But she’s not nearly comfortable enough in her Greek mode to fashion a work of real authority.
Barker’s portraits of Pyrrhus as the anti-hero and Briseis as the unsung heroine sometimes falter through misjudged similes and metaphors ... If Barker does write a third book in this series she will have produced a classical trilogy to complement, perhaps even rival, Regeneration.
As a novelist Barker has always looked on the world with the combination of a cold eye and a sympathetic understanding ... The characterisation is sharp, her sympathy deep. She extends it even to the often brutal men ... Compellingly and often beautifully conveyed.
In the neat rendering of interiority and the stark eloquence of Barker’s prose, there are also echoes of Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary, and, indeed, his stage adaptation with the actress Lisa Dwan, Pale Sister, a retelling of the Antigone myth from the perspective of the silenced sister Ismene ... Occasionally there is too much exposition or explaining of past events, particularly in dialogue. But overall The Women of Troy is a deft and convincing retelling of a weary camp turning on itself, allegiances faltering and new alliances forming. The female solidarity storyline is kept in check.
Barker’s writing is swift, detailed, and immersive. She tends to favor short Anglo-Saxon words, and she isn’t afraid to be vulgar ... Barker unblinkingly depicts the bleakness of the surviving women’s lot, lightened only by their kindnesses toward one another ... The Women of Troy, if perhaps not as dazzling as its predecessor, continues Briseis’s tale in a satisfying way and allows an opening for what I hope will be another volume of her story. It may be impossible to know exactly what people living over three thousand years ago may have thought or how they might have interpreted their own lives, but Barker’s novel succeeds at making us understand that what they felt—the grief of the Trojan women—cannot have been much different than our own.
Barker writes in quiet, unadorned prose but feeds on blood and guts and gore. When you think about the best of Barker, your memory can’t help but alight on splintered bones, flies on ruptured flesh and limbs poking out of a muddy battlefield. Which is to say, her writing is at its most purposeful and alive when she is writing about the trauma of war ... The Women of Troy is thick with paranoia and intrigue, though not quite as involving as its predecessor — perhaps because Briseis’ situation feels less precarious. But the fact I still zipped through it is testament to Barker’s deft, muscular writing and gruff wit ... Readers turn to Barker’s novels for their plain truths and clear-eyed sense of our history and creation stories. But the sombre clarity of her writing is offset by a luminous wisdom so that even when you’re reading about rape and infanticide, the experience is uplifting.
At a time of renewed scrutiny of how society enables male violence against women, Barker inhabits perpetrator as well as victim. If she risks sentimentality with her portrayal of Pyrrhus, sexually confused and happiest with his horse, it’s something the book’s strenuously earthy register works overtime to avoid ... There’s an unutterably bleak message here about the cycles of violence that follow the use of rape as a weapon of war; in less grim moments, the novel also functions as the stirring tale of a resourceful teenage heroine navigating a misogynist dystopia. True, the narrative throughline isn’t as taut as it was in The Silence of the Girls, but as Barker dangles a succession of unresolved threads (Briseis’s missing sister; a secret baby under threat from a looming massacre of Trojan males), you sense this instalment has been written in the leisurely knowledge that it will form part of a series, her favoured mode. But if, as a standalone, it doesn’t quite match the breakthrough of the last novel, the panorama that beckons looks set to rival Barker’s best.
Barker’s prose has a plain force more powerful than fancy wordsmithing; she makes these long-ago events immediate ... The novel closes with the Greek ships finally able to embark, carrying Briseis and her companions to new lives in unknown lands. Asides throughout reveal that Briseis is telling this story from a vantage point 50 years on and hint that there will be another volume to chronicle her life after Troy. More work from one of contemporary literature’s most thoughtful and compelling writers is always welcome.
Her imagination is determinedly unromantic: she loads dysfunction and trauma on to almost every character, not just the violated, grief-shattered women, but also the men ... Barker is also prone to horribly blunt sentences that would feel more at home in a potboiler ... Compared to its predecessor it is short on action. The haunted atmospherics convey an impression of drama that is not born out by the faltering plot ... The Women of Troy undeniably enriches the body of stories about the Trojan wars rather than diminishes it. It ends on a note that suggests all is not over, either. Where will Barker go next?
Briseis is an engaging character, both pragmatic and perceptive, providing keen insight into monsters such as Pyrrhus, as well as the women of Troy ... Briseis’ story doesn’t end with the last page; Barker seems set to pick up her absorbing narrative in a future volume as the Greeks finally set sail for home.
In Barker’s masterly continuation of her fiercely feminist take on Homer’s Iliad (after The Silence of the Girls), the Greeks drag their wooden horse into Troy and achieve victory ... The author makes strategic use of anachronistic language...to illuminate characters living at the dawn of myth. Barker’s latest is a wonder.
Engrossing follow-up to the gritty reimagining of the Trojan War begun in The Silence of the Girls ... Barker’s blunt, earthy prose strips the romance from Greek mythology, revealing its foundations in murder and oppression, yet she also understands—and conveys—the stark appeal of these ancient stories as she asks us to reconsider them through the eyes of their victims. As with her masterful Regeneration trilogy, the inconclusive close of this volume leaves readers hungry to know what happens next to a host of complex and engaging characters. Vintage Barker: challenging, stimulating, and profoundly satisfying.