A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes – Book Review

Title: A Thousand Ships

Author: Natalie Haynes

Genre/Themes: Greek Mythology, Retelling of Troy, Women’s Prize for Fiction Nominee

Blurb from Goodreads

This is the women’s war, just as much as it is the men’s. They have waited long enough for their turn . . .

This was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of them all . . .

In the middle of the night, a woman wakes to find her beloved city engulfed in flames. Ten seemingly endless years of conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans are over. Troy has fallen.

From the Trojan women whose fates now lie in the hands of the Greeks, to the Amazon princess who fought Achilles on their behalf, to Penelope awaiting the return of Odysseus, to the three goddesses whose feud started it all, these are the stories of the women whose lives, loves, and rivalries were forever altered by this long and tragic war.

A woman’s epic, powerfully imbued with new life, A Thousand Ships puts the women, girls and goddesses at the center of the Western world’s great tale ever told.

“With her trademark passion, wit, and fierce feminism, Natalie Haynes gives much-needed voice to the silenced women of the Trojan War.”—Madeline Miller, author of Circe

Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, a gorgeous retelling of the Trojan War from the perspectives of the many women involved in its causes and consequences—for fans of Madeline Miller.

My Review

A Thousand Ships is the book that Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls strived to be. It gives an authentic voice to the stories of all the women affected by the Trojan war, be they goddess, nymph, Trojan or Greek and doesn’t randomly switch to a male PoV which was the major flaw of Barker’s book I thought (considering its title that is).

At times here, the prose is a little dry (I wish it had something of Pat Barker’s rawness of emotion) but the narrative is woven in such an ingenious fashion, and the stories of each woman so punchy that the sometimes dry prose can be forgiven.

I loved how the chapters were almost like little connected vignettes…very reminiscent of Ovid’s Metamorphoses to me. The research gone into character development and creating an overarching plot connecting all these women is truly fabulous. I love how not all the women are perfect snowflakes either. They’re flawed and gritty, full of their own prejudices and therefore feel all the more real.

I really wish that there was more fuss about A Thousand Ships. It fully deserves to share the spotlight with modern Greek mythology retellings such as the aforementioned The Silence of the Girls and the marvellous House of Names, Circe, The Song of Achilles and the much lauded Penelopiad which I think is possibly the most overrated Greek retelling I’ve had the displeasure to read!

Highly recommended to anyone who loves Greek retellings.

“There are so many ways of telling a war: the entire conflict can be encapsulated in just one incident. One man’s anger at the behaviour of another, say. A whole war – all 10 years of it – might be distilled into that.

But this is the 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. And for what reason? Too many men telling the stories of men to each other. Do they see themselves reflected in the glory of Achilles? Do their ageing bodies feel strong when they describe his youth? Is the fat belly of a feasted poet reminiscent of the hard muscles of Hector? The idea is absurd. And yet, there must be some reason why they tell and retell tales of men.

If he complains to me again, I will ask him this: is Oenone less of a hero than Menelaus? He loses his wife so he stirs up an army to bring her back to him, costing countless lives and creating countless windows, orphans and slaves. Oenone loses her husband and she raises their son. Which of those is the more heroic act?”

Other Works I’ve Read by Natalie Haynes

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