Saturday, January 16, 2021

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes, a women's retelling of the Trojan War

“Sing, Muse,” commands a poet, invoking inspiration for his Trojan War verse, but Calliope, goddess of epic poetry, has her own purpose in mind. She offers a tale not of men’s glory but the experiences of all the women. Except maybe Helen, who annoys her. 

Haynes tells a witty, unapologetically feminist story of women’s suffering, courage, and endurance, which demands that we reconsider our concept of heroism. Following a ten-year siege, Creusa, a young wife, wakes to see her city aflame, while other women of Troy wait along the shoreline to be parceled out as slaves to the Greek victors. 

Showing Haynes’ comedic touch, Penelope writes letters to her husband, Odysseus, growing exasperated as she learns the reasons for his delayed voyage home to Ithaca. Some characters are familiar, others less so, including Oenone, Paris’s abandoned wife. Cassandra’s account is especially wrenching. 

The telling is nonlinear, but the varied stories flow naturally together, ensuring readers won’t be lost. Grounded in the classics, this freshly modern version of an ancient tale is perfect for our times.

A Thousand Ships will be published on January 26th by Harper in the US.  In the UK, the novel has been out for a while (2019) and was shortlisted for the 2020 Women's Prize for Fiction. I submitted this review for the December issue of Booklist. I'd read A Thousand Ships last October and began noticing the number of new and upcoming publications retelling ancient Greek myths from the women's viewpoint, spurred on by the success of Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls and Madeline Miller's Circe. Look for a post about this soon! Haynes is also the author of The Children of Jocasta, fiction based on the stories of Sophocles' Oedipus and Antigone


  1. This sounds really good!

  2. I always love a good retelling!

    1. Same here, as long as there's something original about it (and this one fits!).