Pat Barker is a consummate storyteller, and this book is no exception. Her depiction of the Trojan War brings a freshness as well as a sameness, but that may be because I have studied (and taught) The Iliad.
Nothing can truly rescue the women from the ravages of war, but Barker has given some of them a voice in this work. It is undeniable that the women are not the major protagonists, because all the action is quarantined to the men – partly because that’s the way the original story was written, and partly because that is the nature of the times in which the story was written (thought to be a few hundred years after the action took place – if it did).
I’m interested to see that even though the bulk of the story is told through Briseis’s first person narrative, it doesn’t seem possible to progress the story without following Achilles, which we do in another voice, third person. Both narratives proceed in the present tense. Add this to the occasional jolt of modern-day colloquial language (Achilles actually says ‘OK’ at one stage!), and the reader is forcefully reminded that nothing much has changed across the centuries. Warriors fight; all of society suffers, and women most of all.
I rate this book very highly, although I admit I’d prefer not to have the colloquial language included (“She’ll do!”; “Look at the knockers on that!” etc.). However, Barker has made a deliberate choice to do use this language, and her astonishing record would say she has every right to make such editorial decisions.
Read it – see what you think.