Killers of A Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn: A Book Review
Book Review: The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley

Book Review: One Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

But this is a women’s war, just as much as it is the men’s, and the poet will look upon their pain – the pain of the women who have always been relegated to the edges of the story, victims of men, survivors of men, slaves of men – and he will tell it, or he will tell nothing at all. They have waited long enough for their turn.

Last year, when I read The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, I decided that while I love books about the Greek epics, I don’t want to read them anymore. In the end they are stories of suffering and death. Troy is always destroyed. Cassandra always dies. Boastful, greedy, destructive men always fail to learn anything.

The gods always let someone down.

Thousand shipsBut one night this month I needed an audiobook to listen to while I struggled through a treadmill run, and Natalie Haynes’s novel A Thousand Ships was available on Libby, so I decided to try yet another Greek retelling.

This one tells the story in fragments. The overarching narrator is The Muse, Calliope. When the poet (whoever he is) begs her for inspiration, she tells the story of the Trojan war with the women’s voices. Some perspectives we return to, some we only hear from once.

Hecuba, Penthesilea (I must go back and look at her chapter in print, as it made me weep the hardest), Helen, Briseis,  Laodamia, the goddesses fighting over the golden apple, Penelope, Creusa, Polyxena, Chryseis, Iphigenia, Clytemnestra, Thetis, Chryseis, Oenone, Cassandra.

In putting all of these voices together into one narrative, an image begins to emerge. Men make war and some of them die, but it is the women who bear the losses. This is true of all wars, of course. These women’s voices, though, harvested out of the most liminal historical spaces…who am I kidding. I don’t ever want to read a Trojan-war story from the male perspective, but those that examine it from off of the battlefield (save Penthesilea of course) are stories that resonate with me.

What I loved best about this book was how she told the story of Cassandra. Out of any character I’ve ever discovered in all of the books I’ve read throughout my life, Cassandra is the one I relate to the most. In this telling, she is absolutely unintelligible to her family; Hecuba no longer even tries to understand her, nor do her sisters and sisters-in-law. On top of being tortured by her visions, she is utterly lonely. But when she arrives in Mycenae, Clytemnestra not only listens to her visions, she believes them. And when she kills Cassandra, she does it gently and swiftly, only because the gods demand it and not because she hates her.

Cassandra still dies. An entire culture is destroyed because of men’s pride and bloodlust. Everyone suffers. It’s still the same story.

But I am glad to have read it to see it in a different light.

(Plus the writer’s notes at the end are fascinating.)


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