Book Review: "A Thousand Ships" by Natalie Haynes
5/5 - an incredible retelling of the Trojan War...
When I read retellings of Ancient Greek Literature and Mythology, I am looking for one thing in particular - does it do anything differently and if it does, can I still see where the story is going? That is my idea of balance. These stories are thousands of years old and are known far and wide, loved by cultures and communities alike and so, to tackle them with a different perspective often can come out as self-righteous or even pompous. When I first tackled the writing of Natalie Haynes, the first book I read by her was “Pandora’s Jar” and honestly, I have to say that I was very impressed with the sheer amount of knowledge there was about these characters included within the text and then to use that to express them differently was a great idea. Characters such as Clytemnestra and Helen of Troy, The Amazonians and others were covered in vast amounts of detail. This second one I am reading entitled “A Thousand Ships” is about the sacking of Troy, the story told by the two remaining texts of the Trojan Cycle - The Iliad and The Odyssey. Two of my favourite epics of all time (if we exclude the Aeneid of course) retold from an all-female perspective.
Focusing on these normally marginalised and forgotten characters was obviously a great selling point as this is all the rage at the moment. When we look deeper into the text though, we find a great amount of narrative control for each and every character to have something different about their voice. They are not just all these sorrowful and tragic women. We have characters such as the grieving Thetis who cries for her dead son, Achilles. We have the impatient Penelope who has waited just over ten years (and will have to wait ten more) for her husband, Odysseus to come home from war. We have the Trojan Creusa who wakes up in the middle of the night to discover that her city, her home and her stability - Troy - is engulfed in masses of flames and is being sacked by the Greeks. We get to see everyone from the Greek women who wait, the Greek woman who fought against their oppressors, the Trojan women who were taken as prizes by the Greek men of war and everyone in between. It is a brilliantly written book which not only fills in a ton of gaps but also follows a chronology which makes the book easy to read when you know what happens in between these two epic texts.
As I have said, each character has their own voice and no two characters really get their story told the same. Though the book is written in third person, we can definitely see the shift in voice through the atmospheres of these women being all completely different. It begs the question of how much women are impacted by war and honestly, I can argue that they are impacted more than anyone else since they are seen as the subhuman disposable incomes of sacked and scorched cities.
I adored this book and everything it stands for and as a lover of the two epics I have to say that this book is serious in its research and knowledge of the Trojan War and how it did not work out well for a lot of the women who not only lost other people but were lost themselves, taken, refused and oppressed as a result of the war. A fabulous retelling with incredible energy, this book has found a special place in my heart as a great novel and a wonderful representation of gender and war.