The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker | Review

by - 16:53


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 neighbouring 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. 


Every since reading Madeline Milers Circe last summer, I have become interested in Greek mythology, modern adaptations/translations and feminist readings. If you are looking for a raw, intriguing and possibly unique perspective on the well known Greek myth of the fall of Troy, this is definitely one for you. Pat Barker makes no effort to hide the brutal and horrifying way in which women were treated, yet this is not a book with a list of woes against women, but something much more complex that gradually builds into a thought-provoking ending, that can't really be said to be an ending at all. 

Briseis is another female character of mythology often left to the side of the mighty and heroic men, but Pat Barker is able to fully flesh out her character into one that, though physically silent through most of the novel as she speaks very little compared to the male characters of Achilles, Patroclus, Agamemnon and many more, have a lot to say. We see her go through, what can easily be said, the most harrowing things a woman could go through and yet still she rises strong and consistent. Briseis does play such a huge part in the Trojan war, and Barker's illustration of that is a joy to read, despite the dark and at sometimes almost too graphic descriptions of what life would have been like for the woman (and men) living at the front of the Trojan war.

The ending especially is interesting and made me think on it for a while, and I am still not sure what my answer is. I don't think this is spoiling or anything, but what I took from the final lines where Barker's question on who is stronger; the women who kill themselves to avoid capture, or those of are captured and keep on living? Perhaps both are as strong as each other, I'm not sure.

If you are at all interested in Greek Mythology, feminist re-imaginings or good literature, this is definitely one for you. 

4.5/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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