Publication Date: September 4, 2018
Publisher: Doubleday Books
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mythology
Dates Read: July 8-9, 2019
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My Goodreads Review
“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—Briseis—watches and waits for the war’s outcome. 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, able to observe the two men driving the Greek army 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.”
This was one of my Book Club reads for the month of July. I did not think that I would like this book, especially after reading the first few pages. The book jumps right into the action and violence, which wasn’t very appealing to me. That being said, after the first few chapters, Pat Barker’s writing absolutely captured me.
The Silence of Girls is a retelling of Homer’s The Iliad. I honestly have never read The Iliad and knew very little about it other than what I was taught in school about the Trojan War. This story is told from the POV of Briseis and is the story of the women and girls who were, essentially, collateral damage in the Trojan War.
When Lyrnessus falls to the Greeks, Briseis basically becomes a war prize for Achilles but quickly gets caught up in a dispute between him and Agamemnon. We experience life in the Greek’s camp through her eyes and see all the injustices that take place. Barker’s raw and gritty portrayal of a place swamped in rats, plague, alcohol and male egos are wonderfully vivid and beautifully written.
Briseis recounts the atrocities of war and how they affect her and the women around her. As she is unable to help the women around her as they are abused, raped and traded. It’s a dark story, to be sure, and I found it very emotional.
I wanted to give it a higher rating, but the story in the second half felt as if the author wasn’t sure what to do with such an amazing premise. The story started so strong but quickly became repetitive. The concept was strong but I felt the execution withered and died in the ending. I also was at a loss as to why the book was titled as The Silence of Girls when Achilles was by far the most prominent character in the entire story.
He is such a complex character, and I thoroughly enjoyed the slice we got from his POV near the ending. He is told very well through the POV of Briseis, including his maternal abandonment issues and his relationship to Patroclus.
Overall, Baker’s writing is mostly beautiful and witty. I just wish that the ending would have come off as strong on the page as the beginning. This was a very easy read for me, and I was surprised how quickly I soared through it. Since this was an enjoyable read, I will definitely be adding more Greek mythology books into my TBR.
*Content Warning*- Instances of rape, graphic violence, war, and self-harm