(Audio) Book Review: A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

Through a wide variety of voices, Natalie Haynes retells the story of the Trojan War, focusing on the many women who were involved. We hear from Penelope, Clytemnestra, Aphrodite, and even the muse Calliope. Much of what we see is what takes place after the fall of Troy – there is a focus on the group of Trojan women who are taken prisoner by the Greeks after the men of their city are slaughtered. But we also see the wives left behind in other kingdoms, the daughters cloistered in Troy for ten long years.

Haynes’ research is clearly both deep and wide. There is a terrific variety of both voice and perspective. We have women scorned, women vengeful. Women heartbroken and women glad to be rid of their men.

With all that, I don’t have much more to offer than faint praise for this book. There’s nothing I really disliked about it (though I felt like Penelope’s sections – written as letters to Odysseus – felt out of place with the rest of the story), I simply realized after it began that I’m oversaturated by re-tellings of Greek myths. It was impossible not to compare this book to The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker and it was impossible for the book not to suffer in comparison in my mind. With so many of the same characters, I found myself thinking things like, That’s not how Briseis would act! simply because Haynes saw a character differently than how Barker wrote her. If you have not been inundated by feminist retellings of Greek history, I am quite confident you will have better luck with A Thousand Ships.

I listened to this on audio, read by the author herself. The audio mostly had a nice pace but it felt like Haynes sighed a lot while reading which wore on me. This would be a perfect book to have a cast of characters read the various parts.

8 thoughts on “(Audio) Book Review: A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes”

  1. I often wonder why books seem to come out in trends like that. Every time a new trend starts out with the first one or two seeming original and fresh and then gradually as time goes on the books begin to feel tired, even if the later ones are intrinsically just as good as the earlier ones.

    1. You see it in movies too and I don’t understand why. How is it even possible and who does it benefit? This book was definitely an example of one that suffered simply because I read it when I did and couldn’t help compare it to others.

  2. Well, how about that for timing? I’ve got Ithaca by Clair North in my pile at the moment, which tells Penelope’s story.
    You’re right about retellings being published in waves. I wonder who decides what fashion will be ‘in’ next for books and why it is feminist versions of this particular story.

    1. It’s funny, isn’t it? I do see the appeal but there are so many right now that it sort of lessens their impact. I’ll be curious to see what you think of Ithaca!

  3. It’s like the inundation with the WWII books for a while there. I read that one retelling called Song of Achilles that I enjoyed, and maybe its popularity is what spurred do many others.

    1. There are soooo many WWII books! I think the Song of Achilles does seem to have set something off! Though I also seem to remember Margaret Atwood doing a retelling of Penelope’s story maybe 20 years ago now.

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