So this is another one of the Read Harder challenge, this time reading a book about mythology or folklore. As A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes is a retelling of the fall of Troy but from a women’s perspective, I felt it fit the bill.
There is so many great things about this book, though it is heartbreaking. As you can imagine, it wouldn’t have been fun to be a woman of Troy after the city was taken. However, unlike many male authors, the most awful parts of that journey are all seen from the harrowing perspective of the women. What they feel, what it means, the actual impact of thoughtless actions by their male counterparts. Which is often missing from novels and, as the muse Calliope said to the poet requiring inspiration: “If he truly wants to understand the nature of the epic story I am letting him compose, he needs to accept that the casualties of war aren’t just the ones who die. And that a death off the battlefield can be more noble (more heroic, if he prefers it that way) than one in the midst of fighting.”
The other thing that was spectacular about the novel was just the lovely poetry of it all. It was beautifully composed, the reflections of all the women were so poignant and full of emotion. I really enjoyed Penelope’s letters (to Odysseus), who had such a long journey home after Troy. Her love at the beginning and yearning to her annoyance when he revealed himself to other people before her: “So he revealed to Telemachus what he had yet to reveal to me. This – I might add – is absolutely typical.” When he finally does reveal himself it’s a bloodbath, killing all the potential suitors who had tried to woo Penelope: “I never imagined it would be so violent or so cruel. I never thought it would take so long to clean up.”
And of course, we saw the perspective of various gods and nymphs. The three goddesses arguing over the apple, to Calliope making the poet see the impact of the war on women, to Gaia crying over too many people on earth. None of the women of the story of Troy were left out it seems. But even though there were so many, you really got a sense of their personalities and who they were – each woman was their own person.
It was basically fantastic. From the heroic deaths of some of the women, to their acts of vengeance (like Clytemnestra against Agamemnon), to their love of their husbands, friends and children. It was a hard read as the stories were sometimes crushingly sad, and the women faced all these men ignoring their advice that would have saved heartache, but my gosh was it absolutely worth it.