Pat Barker’s Criticism of the Women of Troy – A Troy Story for the Fellowship | Pat barker

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Pto Barker’s previous novel, The silence of the girls, repeated the Iliad from the perspective of one of his secondary characters, Briseis, a Trojan captive quarrels with the Greek invaders who are Homer’s main center of interest. Relentlessly articulating the most gruesome implications of the original myth, Barker transformed a supernatural tale of wartime heroism into an ultra-realistic hellish landscape of female subjugation.

Amid near-unanimous critical approval, a rare note of dissent was struck by author and classic Natalie Haynes, whose Territorial Stealth Spectator critics criticized Barker for his “awkward anachronisms”; Haynes, it turned out, had her own feminist reboot of the Iliad (2019 A thousand ships) in the works. And yes, while The silence of the girls may jar, especially in its resolutely 21st century register (“reaching out”, “a real nightmare”), one could not help but think that Barker had long taken such chicanes into account when she started to remake its source simply by being as direct as possible.

It’s not just about prickly dialogue, all the “bullshit” and “gobshites”, Homer as Father Jack puts it. Attend the opening of his new novel, a sequel from the Aeneid. Crowded in the open air in their wooden horse, the Greeks bide their time before the gates of Troy, ready to settle unfinished business; but imagine if someone needed some shit? Such questions underlie all of Barker’s effects in these books, and generate horror as well as bathos; I have lost count of how many times the narrator, featuring women seized during the fall of the city, draws attention to bruised necks, wrists and mouths.

Much of the story takes place as the Greeks wait to return home, bickering over the intricacies of martial etiquette. Again, Briseis recounts, recounting his late teens at a distance of 50 years. Third-person present tense segments cut off at intervals to male secondary characters who, in their own way, also find themselves withered under macho honor codes, especially the young fighter Pyrrhus, eclipsed by his father, Achilles, who has since died. five months.

The silence of the girls ignited Briseis’ struggle to retain his ipseity amidst the degradation of captivity. Here her fate is more subtle: bearing the child of Achilles and protected in widowhood by the marriage of another Greek warrior, she now finds herself essentially favored by an unjust system – a privilege that is not without cost. for her position among her peers who consider her as a salesperson and collaborator.

As her maid contemplates defeating the authority of the occupying forces – one of the many hot spots of a multi-faceted plot – Briseis’ feelings are inevitably clouded by the thorny complications of her impending motherhood. Particularly considerate of those around her, she is even sympathetic to what she sees as Pyrrhus’ “adolescent bliss”, including the inferiority complex, not to mention the nagging thought of a network of mocking whispers from women. Trojans ready to expose their greatest stories, feeds the most frightening scenes of the novel.

In an era of increasing scrutiny of how society allows male violence against women, Barker lives in both perpetrator and victim. If she risks sentimentality with her portrayal of Pyrrhus, sexually confused and happiest with her horse, it’s something the book’s earthy register works overtime to avoid: Pyrrhus, claiming one of her captives, the compare to bag of chicken bones ”.

There is an unspeakably dark message here about the cycles of violence that follow the use of rape as a weapon of war; in less dark times, the novel also functions as the moving story of a resourceful teenage heroine navigating misogynistic dystopia. Admittedly, the narrative line is not as tight as it was in The silence of the girls, but as Barker drags a succession of unresolved sons (the missing sister of Briseis; a secret baby threatened by an impending slaughter of Trojan men), you feel like this episode was written with the quiet knowledge that it will be a part of of a series, its preferred mode. But if, on its own, that doesn’t quite match the breakthrough of the latest novel, the panorama that opens looks set to compete with Barker’s best.

The women of Troy by Pat Barker is published by Hamish Hamilton (£ 18.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy on guardbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply


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