“This was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of all of them…”
Re-telling of Greek myths have had something of a renaissance in recent years, with highlights including the Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, Ariadne by Jennifer Saint and the Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. Today however, I want to bring your attention to A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes, shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020. This powerful novel weaves together the stories of the woman involved in and affected by the decade long Trojan War.
Natalie Haynes is a writer and broadcaster who’s written a number of fiction and non-fiction works around Greek mythology after studying Classics at Cambridge University. Her other titles include The Children of Jocasta, Pandora’s Jar and Stone Blind. She’s hosted the series Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics which you can find on BBC Sounds (with a new series being made this year!)
When you think about the Trojan War often the first people who come to mind are Achilles, Agamemnon and Hector, but amongst the warriors and leaders are the women of the Trojan War. As Madeline Miller notes “Haynes gives a much-needed voice to the silenced women of the Trojan War”, this is long overdue and damn if it’s not a riveting read.
What drew me to the novel originally was its title, which derives from the famous quote about Helen of Troy “was this the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium?”, from Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus. Within the first few pages, as the walls of Troy burn around a panicked Creusa I was hooked. This 340-page novel takes us across Greece as we follow the lives and stories of the women of the war, both Greek and Trojan. This includes the names you’ve likely heard before, like Helen of Troy, but also some you haven’t like Chryseis (a woman of Troy briefly enslaved by the Greeks).
These women are not one-dimensional, and Haynes uses rich, engaging storytelling to show us who these women were and why we should know their names.
I won’t say more for fear of spoiling it, but I would highly recommend making it one of your first books of the New Year!
Have you read this novel? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!
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A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
Natalie Haynes Website: https://nataliehaynes.com/about/
BBC Sounds, Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b077x8pc
Wikipedia: Natalie Haynes