The Silence of the Girls (Pat Barker)

I first heard of this way back when I was reading Circe, and I ended up on a bit of Greek mythology binge. I had to wait until Christmas to actually purchase this though, as I was trying to Be Good.

Title: The Silence of the Girls
Author: Pat Barker
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover

The Silence of the Girls is marketed as a retelling of the final weeks of the Trojan war though the eyes of Briseis, one of the Queens of the sacked towns around Troy and given to Achilles as a prize of honour. Retelling the battles of Troy through Briseis and the other captured and silent women of the Greek camp as portrayed in the Illiad.

I both liked and disliked this book. I feel as if there were some incredible parts on forced sex slavery, and the relationships between victim and victor in this seemingly never-ending war. However, there were also whole sections that I found a little harder – I know that in any final weeks retelling of the Trojan war, the matter of Achilles, Patroclus and Agamemnon’s honour issues are important, and Briseis is a part of that. But I was expecting a book about the women, not another book about Achilles and Patroclus only this times through the eyes of a slave woman. I found the switching in point of view to Achilles or Patroclus from part 2 a little jarring. Objectively, I understand that it helps with setting the scene in a way that might not be immediately apparent through Briseis’s eyes, but it was jarring nonetheless.

I feel that the relationships Briseis had with the other women of the encampment could have been developed a little further, and more could have been done with how the women interact when the men aren’t around. There was a scene where a group of women (Briseis included) are preparing a man for burial without the men, and they act incredibly differently and I felt like those fleeting moments were important to the characters. I feel as if there are huge sections of relationship building that took place while the reader is following Patroclus or Achilles.

Despite my apparent lack of enthusiasm, I did like The Silence of the Girls, I think I was just disappointed by the close focus on the relationship between two men, rather than on the relationships forged between the women. This was a powerful and brutal tale, not a romance. Rape is a common theme, as is survival in a brutal male-dominated world.

“I thought: “And I do what countless women before me have been forced to do. I spread my legs for the man who killed my husband and my brothers.”

Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

I gave this a 3.5 on Goodreads because it was well written, with some incredible lines, I just wish it had focussed a bit more on the women. I feel that the premise was amazing, but it didn’t quite pan into excellent execution.



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