The Silence of the Girls

The Silence of the Girls

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 br...

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Title:The Silence of the Girls
Author:Pat Barker
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Silence of the Girls Reviews

  • Rachel

    It's so hard to divorce my love of the

    from my experience reading

    , but I think that's partially what makes this such a fantastic retelling. Told primarily from the perspective of Briseis, a Trojan captive given to Achilles as a war prize, Pat Barker's novel endeavors to tell the unsung story of the female characters who litter the background of the Ancient Greek epic. And she does a pretty brilliant job.

    The pleasure I derive from reading retellings, and especially

    It's so hard to divorce my love of the

    from my experience reading

    , but I think that's partially what makes this such a fantastic retelling. Told primarily from the perspective of Briseis, a Trojan captive given to Achilles as a war prize, Pat Barker's novel endeavors to tell the unsung story of the female characters who litter the background of the Ancient Greek epic. And she does a pretty brilliant job.

    The pleasure I derive from reading retellings, and especially retellings of Homer, is twofold: I want to see the author's unique slant on the narrative and feel that they're contributing something new to the story, otherwise what's the point, but I also want to be reminded of my love of the original. On both fronts,

    is a resounding success. Pat Barker captured the grandiosity of these characters and events in a way that really struck a chord with me; I felt constantly on the verge of tears reading parts of this novel because Homer's musings on fate and free will and grief and glory - in short, what makes the

    so epic and timeless - are all echoed in Briseis' narrative. But Barker also manages it all from the sidelines, zeroing in on the experiences of a war slave who has no choice but to watch events unfold around her with no personal agency. Briseis is fully aware that she is not the hero of her own story, that she's narrating these events as a spectator to her own life. You could argue that at times she almost has a bit too much awareness of this fact, but as she's narrating these events from years later, the time and perspective have clearly allowed her to form the big picture.

    I also felt these were some of the best depictions I've ever read of these characters, notably Achilles and Patroclus. I find that certain writers have a difficult time reconciling Achilles' brutality with his heroism, and likewise Patroclus' ruthless streak with his kindness. But Barker frankly addresses that, in times of war especially, these characteristics can easily coexist. I really felt that these characters had walked straight out of the pages of the

    into Barker's story, in a way that I haven't seen achieved by any other retelling I've read (except maybe

    by David Malouf, which until now has been my go-to recommendation for modern

    retellings). Briseis is a very minor character in the original, and as such, Barker had a lot more leeway with her protagonist, but I was also satisfied with the result; I was immediately invested in Briseis and I thought she added a much-needed and underrepresented perspective to the story.

    My biggest issue with this novel the unwieldy execution of the point of view shifts. Though this retelling focuses on Briseis, so much of the backdrop and what drives the characters' motivations hinges on the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, and for Briseis to narrate that to us any more than she already does would verge too heavily into 'telling rather than showing' territory, so I really didn't mind the occasional inclusion of the male perspectives. But the first person/third person switch feels arbitrary and messy, especially since Briseis herself spends so much time observing and narrating Achilles's actions. I felt like Barker could have played with this a bit more; played up the uncertainty that maybe we aren't reading Achilles's thoughts, but rather, Briseis' interpretation of Achilles's thoughts.... but nothing is really made of this opportunity, as it's clear that we're supposed to be in Achilles' head, but rather unclear why we've switched over to his thoughts at any given moment.

    But aside from that, this book was pretty much everything I wanted it to be. It's subversive yet subtle; affecting yet understated. It captures the epic scale of the

    and the quiet moments of beauty in the story and everything in between. It's definitely a subtler feminist retelling than the likes of

    and

    , but I have to say I much, much preferred

    - though I would readily recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the aforementioned novels. But for all my talk of retellings and Greek classics, I really don't think you need prior knowledge of any of that before starting Barker's novel - it's a stunning story that should stand on its own just fine.

  • Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader

    Today I have a book that came highly recommended by my friend, Paula, at Book Jotter, and my Goodreads friend, Tammy.

    My Thoughts:

    The Silence of the Girls is referred to as a masterpiece in its synopsis. Yes, it is absolutely a stunning masterpiece.

    For over 10 years, the city of Troy has been under siege and in battle over Helen, a woman who can observe the war high atop a parapet within the city walls.

    Another woman, Briseis, a form

    Today I have a book that came highly recommended by my friend, Paula, at Book Jotter, and my Goodreads friend, Tammy.

    My Thoughts:

    The Silence of the Girls is referred to as a masterpiece in its synopsis. Yes, it is absolutely a stunning masterpiece.

    For over 10 years, the city of Troy has been under siege and in battle over Helen, a woman who can observe the war high atop a parapet within the city walls.

    Another woman, Briseis, a former queen of a neighboring kingdom, has been captured by and lives in servitude of the man who murdered her husband and brothers, Achilles.

    Agamemnon is the leader of all the Greeks, and he demands Briseis to be his, but not without consequences. Achilles, the top fighter for the Greeks, refuses to return to battle. As a result, the Greeks quickly lose ground in their siege on Troy.

    Briseis’ voice is powerful. She speaks for herself but also for all of the thousands of hidden women involved in this war.

    Pat Barker re-weaves a classic where women are present (not invisible), where they find strength among each other (and are not weak), and where they are depicted as living, breathing humans with opinions and emotions.

    The writing is precise and glorious. While you may “know” some of these characters from popular Greek mythology, Briseis’ perspective and Barker’s rich storytelling combine in a way that each character is robust and complex in ways not depicted before.

    Barker’s The Silence of the Girls is a study on war and its indelibly human impact as told by a resilient and brave (mythological) woman.

    Thank you to Doubleday for the complimentary ARC. All opinions are my own.

    My reviews can also be found on my blog:

  • Paromjit

    Pat Barker continues on the themes of war, providing a brutally visceral portrait in this telling of The Iliad, adding the voices of the women missing from the original. When her family is wiped out by the forces of Agamemnon, Briseis becomes the premier warrior, Achilles, trophy prize. Barker provides complex and nuanced characterisation, of the women as slaves, prostitutes, nurses, whilst giving us an Achilles that is less a hero, more a troubled man with his own demons. We get the clash of ma

    Pat Barker continues on the themes of war, providing a brutally visceral portrait in this telling of The Iliad, adding the voices of the women missing from the original. When her family is wiped out by the forces of Agamemnon, Briseis becomes the premier warrior, Achilles, trophy prize. Barker provides complex and nuanced characterisation, of the women as slaves, prostitutes, nurses, whilst giving us an Achilles that is less a hero, more a troubled man with his own demons. We get the clash of male egos when Agamemnon demands Briseis for himself after losing his woman. A bitter Achilles agrees but refuses point blank to fight for him any more. As we are immersed in the daily horrors of war, Achilles's pain and despair overflows after a personal tragedy but still has him able to feel compassion towards the grief of Priam. The Silence of the Girls is a stellar novel, beautifully written, where the stories of the women are told, made authentic with their opinions and views, amidst the never ending cost of war they are forced to endure. Highly recommended!

  • Meredith

    Briseis, once a queen, is now a prized possession of Achilles--the same man who destroyed her city and butchered her family. Relegated to be Achilles’ “bed girl,” she is merely serving a purpose in the Greek camp.

    Briseis, once a queen, is now a prized possession of Achilles--the same man who destroyed her city and butchered her family. Relegated to be Achilles’ “bed girl,” she is merely serving a purpose in the Greek camp.

    Often referred to as “it,” she isn’t thought of as a human being. She struggles to maintain her place and function in a world run by her enemies.

    Briseis physically can’t fight her enemies, and escape would leave her desolate and in danger; she can only find her power in one way: observation. She observes all of the details of the camp and sees what others do not. In doing so, Briseis gives a voice to those who had none: the slaves, the concubines, the less than human.

    .

    Briseis is a compelling narrator and I was often on edge waiting to see if she was going to survive the horrors of her new life. I felt the weight of her story and the empowerment of her words. However, I found the narrative to be bit temperamental and I could have done without Achilles’ perspective--if this was to be the story of those who were voiceless, why does the reader need to be inside the head of the so-called “hero?”

  • Tammy

    Royal Briseis is presented to Achilles as a prize for sacking and destroying Lyrnessus a neighboring city of Troy. So this is a re-telling of the final few weeks of The Iliad’s Trojan War from the perspective of a “bed-slave”. While Briseis has it better than the abject slavery of many other female captives her life is, in its own way, just as brutal. The prose of Part One is bewitching but it falls apart for a few chapters within Part Two where it veers off into clichés as well as attempts at c

    Royal Briseis is presented to Achilles as a prize for sacking and destroying Lyrnessus a neighboring city of Troy. So this is a re-telling of the final few weeks of The Iliad’s Trojan War from the perspective of a “bed-slave”. While Briseis has it better than the abject slavery of many other female captives her life is, in its own way, just as brutal. The prose of Part One is bewitching but it falls apart for a few chapters within Part Two where it veers off into clichés as well as attempts at conveying conversation with a sense of realism. You’ll recognize this sort of thing: “ We-ell, ye-es, no-o, list-en” which is annoying, distracting and unnecessary. We get back on track afterwards. The characters are gratifyingly complicated, distressed and conflicted. After all, isn’t this why these classic legends endure?

  • Melanie

    This was my pick for the September 2018

    box!

    Hi, my name is Melanie and 2018 has been the year that I constantly talk about my love for Greek mythos retellings.

    is a feminist reimagining of Ho

    This was my pick for the September 2018

    box!

    Hi, my name is Melanie and 2018 has been the year that I constantly talk about my love for Greek mythos retellings.

    is a feminist reimagining of Homer's

    , centering on the Trojan War, but is told in a completely different light than ever before. Yes, we get to see the Trojans and Greeks battle and Achilles be the hero the world knows and loves, but this tale is all about a voice that is never heard in other renditions.

    Briseis is a woman that has lost everything; her family, her city, her freedom, but this story gives her an actual voice, unlike all the other tales, but also shows how much more she was able to lose after Achilles is at the gate of her city. This is a very brutal book. Major

    for graphic murder, slavery, pedophilia, cheating, war themes, loss of a loved one, a lot of detailed rape, suicide, self-harm, abuse, PTSD depictions, animal death, sacrificial rituals, the death of children and babies, and heavy war themes and battle depictions. Please use caution with this book and make sure you are in a safe and healthy mindset.

    I also want to say that I just reread

    a couple weeks ago, and I’m not sure if that heightened or lowered my reading experience. I will say that Patroclus is a sweet angel in every retelling of

    and that didn’t change in

    . But Achilles? This book makes you truly dislike him and… I just wasn’t expecting it. This book really shows how the stories are always told from a man’s voice and view, and they are always something to be glorified. But Pat Barker gives a voice to the women who are just background noise in all then men’s stories, deemed unworthy.

    This reading experience is so unique because the Greeks are hailed as the heroes the entire time, but in this book we get to see behind the heartbreak and devastation they cause on and off the battlefield. Meanwhile, women are just prizes of the war that they never asked to be a part of. And even though Briseis has it a better than a lot of the women taken and enslaved by the Greek, seen as nothing more than spoils of war, her pain is never subsided and never viewed as lesser. Yet, that doesn’t make seeing things from her perspective hurt less. This book truly is heartbreaking.

    My favorite part of this book, as heartbreaking as it is, is how each generation of children (girls, boys, nonbinary) are learning and living in this broken cycle with these expectations and gender roles forced upon them. The cycle never stops; it is just continuously passed down. Yeah, this is a Greek retelling trying to make a statement, but the parallels to our world in 2018 are thought-provoking and leaves an even scarier statement.

    And there is a big emphasis on how war will also be passed down from father to son, generation after generation, along with their prejudices, their hate, and their need for revenge. Again, it is never ending and will never be enough. The suffering will just continue and continue being passed down. Meanwhile, the pain and fear will never subside.

    Overall, I think this is a really important book and I feel very fortunate that I was able to read it. I’ve always loved reimaginings of Homer’s works, but I’ve never read one like this before. Again, this is a really hard book to read and it gets very dark at times. But it really shows how rape will always be about power, not lust. And how men that lust for that power are capable of the evilest of things. And how these men can already have immense power, but it still won’t be enough. How these men and be rich, how they can be good-looking, how they can be the hero of the story.

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    Buddy read with

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  • Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies

    This is a really good historical novel. I didn't say historical romance because it is most definitely not one. If you're expecting a romance novel, you'd be dead wrong.

    It's a brutal tale. If you're triggered by rape, you should stay away from this book, but it is just a fact, it is not used as a plot device.

    The theme of this book is survival, or rather, subsistence. Briseis was a queen

    This is a really good historical novel. I didn't say historical romance because it is most definitely not one. If you're expecting a romance novel, you'd be dead wrong.

    It's a brutal tale. If you're triggered by rape, you should stay away from this book, but it is just a fact, it is not used as a plot device.

    The theme of this book is survival, or rather, subsistence. Briseis was a queen, now a concubine; a slave. Her fate is still many times better than the other survivors, all female, because every single man, boy, and male infant had been killed. No details were spared for our sensitivities in this book.

    This book is not only about Briseis, it's about war. Achilles, Hector, Agamemnon, Patroclus. It may be a brutal book, but it's beautiful in its stark brutality.

  • Emily May

    is a retelling of Homer's

    that brings in the stories of the women and girls who were, essentially, collateral damage in the Trojan War.

    Briseis is the narrator. When Lyrnessus falls to the Greeks, she becomes a war prize for Achilles but quickly gets caught up in a dispute between him and

    is a retelling of Homer's

    that brings in the stories of the women and girls who were, essentially, collateral damage in the Trojan War.

    Briseis is the narrator. When Lyrnessus falls to the Greeks, she 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

    of a place swamped in stinking rats, alcohol and male ego is especially good in the first half of the book.

    Whether intentional or not, the title calls to mind Clarice Starling from

    and her story about helplessly sitting by while the lambs went to the slaughter. It's an interesting parallel. Briseis recounts the atrocities of war and how they affect women, unable to help the women around her as they are abused, raped and traded like chattel. It's a dark story, to be sure, and I found it very emotional and effective for just less than half of the book.

    I wanted to give it a higher rating, but I can't shake the impression that

    offers a fascinating premise and then kinda doesn't know what to do with it. The strong start becomes something tedious and repetitive once we settle into camp life, and especially so when the author introduces Achilles' perspective in the second half. It's disappointing when books are strong in concept but quickly wither out in execution.

    I'm probably underselling it, though. 3 stars is not really a negative rating and there's some excellent writing here. Achilles is a complex character, portrayed both through his own perspective and through Briseis's. His maternal abandonment issues, plus his relationship with Patroclus, are told well. It is strange perhaps that in a book called

    , Achilles is still the most interesting and multilayered character. Or maybe that's the point- who knows?

    Barker's writing is mostly smart and witty, powered both by metaphor and some of Briseis's sardonic asides, but there are a few jarring anachronisms. Her use of British slang like "knockers" for breasts feels weird and out of place no matter how much

    .

    It's really difficult to talk about this retelling of Greek mythology without bringing in Madeline Miller as a comparison. Well, I liked this one better than Miller's

    but less than her

    . As far as books that give voices to the lesser-known women of ancient myths go,

    still comes out on top for me.

    CW: Rape (on-page); war; graphic violence; one incidence of self-harm.

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  • Tatiana

    30%, I am calling it quits

    I guess what I don't understand is why, if you choose to rewrite The Iliad from the perspective of women, all these women do is talk about men, observe these said men, and that's it? Literally, 2 pages are given to Briseis's pre-capture past. The rest, so far at least, is her watching men do things, mostly disgusting things, and being abused, with an occasional break for an entirely too modern for the story feminist lecture. Why no time is spent on women nurturing relat

    30%, I am calling it quits

    I guess what I don't understand is why, if you choose to rewrite The Iliad from the perspective of women, all these women do is talk about men, observe these said men, and that's it? Literally, 2 pages are given to Briseis's pre-capture past. The rest, so far at least, is her watching men do things, mostly disgusting things, and being abused, with an occasional break for an entirely too modern for the story feminist lecture. Why no time is spent on women nurturing relationships among themselves, on explaining their (to be sure rich) internal lives? Even if they are captured slaves, they still have pasts and stories to tell, right? I am not sure "The Silence if the Girls" would even pass Bechdel test. Does this book have 2 women who have at least one conversation about something other than men?

    Say what you will about Offred, but even though she was passive, she still had some thoughts on subjects other than her Commander.

    I am growing increasingly frustrated by these new stories with women's voices, when the women are only defined by their relationships to (mostly awful) men in their lives. I felt this way about Circe, Blood Water Paint, and now this novel. I love a good feminist tale, but these just don't do it for me.

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