A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (Picador paperback £8.99)

I loved the Greek myths when I was a child: so many stories with so many fantastical creatures, so many monsters to be tricked by wily heroes. It seems that in recent years there has been a trend to revisit these myths and see how a modern audience can relate to them. 

Natalie Haynes has chosen to retell the tales of the Trojan War concentrating on the viewpoint of the many women who were involved and stories that have often been sidelined and used as bit-part players.

The muse Calliope is dictating this narrative to an unnamed poet demanding these voices be heard. Theirs are tales of human loss, pain and in many cases helpless frustration. They are not the tales of heroic bravado of the men on the battlefield.  There is much bloodshed. All sides in the war are vengeful and afraid of repercussions so women and babies are not spared the sword.  Survivors would live to fight back.

Haynes has a very engaging style and gives each woman a relatable voice.  I enjoyed the ever increasing weariness in tone of the letters Penelope sends to Odysseus.

She is renowned for her patience but in these missives we see it wearing thin. She hears of his escapades through bards, and fears he is more interested in glory than returning to his wife and son. She reels off his adventures as a series of excuses: “You met a monster. You met a witch . . . A whirlpool ate my friends”.

The “Trojan Women” each have a strand of the story after the end of Troy. They are the spoils of war, powerless, waiting to be dealt out with the gold and silverware.

Then there are the gods who appear manipulative and petty. Gaia is straining with the weight of all the humans and wants Zeus to help. A long and bloody war is needed to cull the pesky humans, so it is started out of jealousy, arrogance and desire. Aphrodite is vindictive in her gift to Paris after he waits too long to call her most beautiful of all. There will be no real victors.

There have been many fantastic retellings of  these myths and this is another to add to that cannon. And as Calliope says “A war does not ignore half of the people whose lives it touches. So why do we?”

Philippa Morris

The little apple bookshop is now open Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat 10am until 4pm, plus you can call on 01904676103 or visit the website on littleapplebookshop.co.uk