Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman: Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman watches and waits for the war’s outcome: Briseis. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army.
When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position to observe the two men driving the Greek forces in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate, not only of Briseis’s people, but also of the ancient world at large.
Briseis is just one among thousands of women living behind the scenes in this war–the slaves and prostitutes, the nurses, the women who lay out the dead–all of them erased by history. With breathtaking historical detail and luminous prose, Pat Barker brings the teeming world of the Greek camp to vivid life. She offers nuanced, complex portraits of characters and stories familiar from mythology, which, seen from Briseis’s perspective, are rife with newfound revelations. Barker’s latest builds on her decades-long study of war and its impact on individual lives–and it is nothing short of magnificent.
I have seen this story of Achilles told from the perspective of Patroclus in The Song of Achilles, and I have watched the movie Troy, but it was so refreshing to look at is through the eyes of Briseis, a woman. Briseis is a captured and becomes Achilles war prize, and I believe that her story is often romanticized. I greatly appreciated that Pat Barker gave us an honest and realistic account of what Briseis truly would have been feeling and experiencing. We live inside her head and it allows the reader to feel completely connected her to her. It was so raw that it was hard to read at times.
From the beginning I was so blown away by Pat Barker’s writing that I was even compelled to tweet about it. I can not remember the last time I read a book where I wanted to highlight a quote on every page. Her descriptions are so vivid that there were times where I had to put the book down because the scenes were so graphic or emotional that I needed a break in order to recover.
I am sure most of you know the plot of The Iliad and The Odyssey by now, but the retellings will never get old for me. It is such an interesting story and every new book I read about it gives me a new perspective. I finished The Silence of the Girls and I now see the story in a whole different way. I had never truly considered what it must have been like for women. I have yet to read The Iliad and The Odyssey which needs to change. I need to read the original subject material that inspires so many gorgeous retellings.
As beautiful as the writing was, I found that the pacing was very slow at times. There were moments where I thought it was maybe too descriptive and repetitive.
“Men carve meaning into women’s faces; messages addressed to other men.”
There will obviously be a lot of comparison made between A Song of Achilles and The Silence of the Girls, but I think they both have their own merit. If you are wondering if The Silence of the Girls is worth reading since you have already read A Song of Achilles, the answer is a big YES!! You will look at this story in a whole new way!
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.