This is another retelling of the Trojan War. The novel covers events which happened before and during Homer’s two epic poems, The Iliad, and The Odyssey. However, with this retelling we have something which has not been done before. The story is told from the female characters perspective. Be they mortals, queens, or gods, all the characters are female, with the male characters taking a back seat. The story begins with the sacking of Troy. The Greeks last ditch effort, the trick that spawned the saying, “beware Greeks bearing gifts” the Trojan Horse, has worked, and the Greeks are within the walls raping and pillaging. Frustrations of ten long years of fighting being taken out on the people of Troy.
The very first chapter belongs to Calliope, the muse, who is refusing to help Homer compose his epic poem. She will not help him until she receives an offering as all mortals must do. This is one of my favourite parts of the novel. Calliope will pop up again and again following Homer as he composes his poem. Yes, in a genius stroke Haynes takes Homer out of the narrative replacing him with Calliope, the chief of all the muses and epic poetry, ensuring that the story being told from the female perspective begins right from the start. Haynes gives voices to characters who are integral to the original tale and yet almost never got to open their mouths in the original poems. Characters such as Briseis and Chryseis. Without these two women, there would have been no plague, Achilles would not have withdrawn his forces, from the war, Patroclus would not have taken his place, etc, these two women in the original poem are vital characters without a voice. The structure of the narrative is very similar to Colleen McCullough’s retelling “Song of Troy” in that each chapter is devoted to one character and their perspective. There are a number of chapters however entitled “The Trojan Women” and in these chapters we find the royal women of Troy, Priam’s wife and daughters, Hector’s wife, waiting to find out their fate.
About half the novel is devoted to Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, writing letters to him waiting and longing for his return. She learns through Homer’s poems the trials that Odysseus is going through and his struggles, while Penelope struggles to believe the poets words. we find what it is like for her waiting twenty years for Odysseus to return to her. Haynes shines a light on her pain. At times the novel feels almost like an anthology of Greek myths and the narrative is not chronological with chapters weaving back and forth. However, they are all brilliantly connected, and the reader never loses their way. In fact, Haynes has done a marvellous job placing the various chapters in the order they are. Even somebody who has never read Homer would find it difficult to get lost. I do believe that lovers of Homer and his epic poems will get more out of this novel, but as with the other retellings, I also think that this book will be enjoyable for all. It may even convince some people to read the wonderful works of Homer.
Natalie Haynes, author of‘The Amber Fury’ and ‘The Children Of Jocasta’ , is a graduate of Cambridge University and an award-winning comedian, journalist, and broadcaster. She judged the Man Booker Prize in 2013 and was a judge for the final Orange Prize in 2012. Natalie was a regular panelist on BBC2’s Newsnight Review, Radio 4’s Saturday Review, and the long-running arts show, Front Row. She is a guest columnist for the The Independent and The Guardian. Her radio series, ‘Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics’, was first broadcast in March 2014.
There is a short but very interesting interview with Haynes here - http://www.onceuponabookcase.co.uk/2019/05/once-upon-retelling-thousand-ships-natalie-haynes.html