by Pat Barker
This is Pat Barker’s brilliant retelling of The Iliad. This is a story about the very real cost of wars waged by men, but told from the point of view of the women taken as spoils of war. Some of these women captives fall for the men who capture them, but most live in terrified silence in the “plague-ridden rape camps” that they have to learn to survive in.
The story is told by 19-year-old Briseis, who was Queen of Lyrnessus until her home is destroyed and her husband killed by Achilles. “Great Achilles, brilliant Achilles, shining Achilles, godlike Achilles … how the epithets pile up,” Briseis begins. “We never called him any of those things; we called him ‘the butcher’.” Briseis is chosen by Achilles as one of his “spoils” following the raid against her homeland. But Briseis becomes a pawn between Achilles and commander-in-chief Agamemnon. After his own female slave leaves, Agamemnon seizes Briseis from Achilles as a replacement. Achilles is full of vengeful rage against Agamemnon and his own comrades. This ultimately leads to the destruction of Troy and Achilles’ death. This is a wonderful read and Barker’s novel is an invitation to give female characters, such as Briseis, the voice they’ve traditionally been denied. In seeing a legend differently, Barker makes us rethink history.
Matakana Village Books