I hope you’re well and HAPPY WEEKEND!! I honestly feel like the weekend could not have come around quick enough for me this week..it honestly sounds like most people had a bit of a hellish whirlwind week at their places of work last week, myself included. Worn-out.com doesn’t even cover it! I’ve been trying my best to keep stress in check by working out, yoga, walking, chatting to my friends and of course – reading! This weekend I’ve woken up and finished a book, we’ve cleaned the house, about to head to the gym and then out for our first date night in months later, so that’ll be nice! What are you doing with your weekend and will it involve books? I hope so!
So it is complete coincidence that the next book I’ve read (and therefore reviewing) follows the last – it is accidental but also, wonderful. You’ll have seen me say how much I love the rare birds book club, and I was fortunate enough to win my next book from them over on Instagram! I wouldn’t have picked this up usually, which is what makes that book club so worthwhile being a member of.
A THOUSAND SHIPS, BY NATALIE HAYNES
This was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of them all.
Firstly, the blue and copper on this book is stunning and will look beautiful on your bookshelf, so if you decide to buy this one after reading my review, then I recommend buying the physical copy of this book, rather than an e- book.
This is the story of the Trojan war, told from an all-female perspective. Not just mere mortals, or queens, or VIPs, but of female goddesses, girls of all ages and society. As with Circe, this is a re-telling of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey poetry and opens in very much the same way as Iliad, beginning with Calliope, thought of as Homer’s Muse. Firstly what I was relieved to see as I opened this attractive book is a list of characters, whether they were Greeks, Trojans or Deities and which houses they belonged to. But I also felt a little bit hesitant; does that mean there’s too many characters to keep up with? If like me, your Greek Mythology is pretty much graded as F-, then according to mythology, the trojan war began because Helen of Sparta ran off with Paris when she was already married to King Menelaus, so the greeks started the war to get her back. It’s why they built that really crafty horse and burnt Troy to the ground. Not so sure after reading this novel that she was worth the hassle personally, but you know, egos and saving face and all that.
“A Thousand Ships all sailing across the perilous oceans in hope of finding one man’s wife. It remains, I’m sure you’ll agree, an astonishing state of affairs.”Penelope
For the first few chapters of the book, I knew that I loved Haynes writing and descriptions, but that this book took work. Haynes does what a lot of authors seem to miss, in that she adds colour to descriptions of garments, so you can visualise exactly how the character is dressed or looks. But the layout of the book took some real open-mindedness on my part, and a lot of concentration on people and their stories. There are a lot of names to digest in the opening chapters and each chapter is very different. Calliope (deity) simply mocks Homer (and in some ways throughout the book acts as a stage whisper as to what you’re reading or about to read) and does so with a lot of humour and narcissism. We then jump ship (pun totally intended) to Creusa, a Trojan Woman who wakes to find her city burning. This chapter was considerably long but I was completely captivated by the skill in the descriptions and actions, you could picture the scenes and emotions of Creusa like you were watching it on screen.
This is how the chapters flow, each chapter a different woman, girl or group of women in society and their stories of how the Trojan War affected them. In many ways, it’s written like Girl, Woman, Other. It’s a series of short stories from a female perspective, with many characters interwoven and stumbling into one another’s path. To begin with I found the changes in person, tense, writing and chapter lengths to be rather annoying, it felt like I’d just started to understand a character and their story and then it would all get jumbled up again. Somehow though it adds different dimensions to the text, making it more interesting than just a straight storytelling.
Particularly of interest to me is the way in which Haynes writes in Penelope, having just read Circe. From Circe I believed Penelope to be utterly devoted to Odysseus (who cheats on her with Circe) and an all round strong woman and mother (which she is); however the way Haynes has re-written her is fantastic and really helps add more layers and dimensions to her character. Her letters change over time from wistful and devoted to sarcastic, bitter and damn right sassy. It was brilliant.
The perspectives we explore are that of stolen women, those held captive, royalty dethroned, grieving mothers and sisters. Its emotional reading in some parts, and you can expect themes of war, murder, rape, slavery and human sacrifice.
My favourite characters in the book (besides Penelope and Cassandra, a girl who can see the future but whom everyone thinks is just crazy) were the goddesses. What we quickly come to learn from these chapters is that the silly decisions we believe the mortals to be making are not quite their own, but cleverly orchestrated by the deities for their own childish games, fun and interests. In one scene we see Aphrodite, Hera and Athene fight over a golden apple that says it belongs to the most beautiful. This is where Paris gets roped in and the whole horrible events begin as a result. But the chaos is more orchestrated than that, the whole chaos devised by a pissed off goddess, simply because she wasnt invited to a wedding that she didn’t want to go to anyway. The layers of greek mythology is honestly fascinating, nothing is surface level and its usually very clever and caused by someone behaving childishly because their ego is hurt.
“Men’s deaths are epic, women’s deaths are tragic, is that it? He has misunderstood the very nature of conflict. Epic is countless tragedies woven together. Heroes don’t become heroes without carnage, and carnage has both causes and consequences. And those don’t begin and end on a battlefield.”Calliope
CAN’T PUT IT DOWN RATING: 4.5/5
I loved this book, honestly after reading Circe & this book I’ve got the greek mythology bug (although I’ll be taking a break from it to switch genres to something lighter for a while!). This book is well written and recently was nominated for the womens prize for fiction 2020 and rightly so. It is hard work to begin with and does take perseverance, but I liked the way that characters came from all different levels of society and was compiled as a short list of stories where characters tended to weave into one another’s lives, an element I really enjoyed in Girl Woman Other. I would however say that some of the characters were a little imbalanced for me, I expected more from Helen herself, and perhaps there was too many characters to make comfortable and easy reading – I forgot how some of the stories ended.
However Historical stories from the perspectives of women are rarely told and whilst my complaint of ‘too many characters and so too many stories’ is because it makes for difficult reading at times, it’s also exactly what is needed. In any war or tragedy there are obviously so many different perspectives from all members of society who’s voices should be heard. I love that Haynes has challenged this and done just that. Fantastic writing and well worth reading.
Strongly recommend to those who loved the style of Girl Woman Other and those who also enjoyed Circe.
Where to Buy:
WASHED DOWN WITH:
I’ve been all about autumn vibes this week, making coffee in my transportable cup for walks and walking in leaves with one from coffee shops – it’s my favourite thing to do when the weather changes! This week I’ve been sipping Maple Fudge coffee from Beanies, which is perfect for this time of year. Its a really nice flavour without being sickly and can be drank black or with milk. You can find this flavour direct on Beanies’ website.
Have you read A Thousand Ships or if you’re not someone who’s had much interest in greek mythology, will you be picking it up? Comment below!
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Until the next chapter,