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 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 b...

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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.

  • Roman Clodia

    This is the best modern re-telling of the Iliad that I've read - even if it does perhaps extend too far, taking in the aftermath of war as told in Athenian tragedies: the Hekabe, and the Trojan Women especially.

    Told in a straightforward narrative, the majority in 1st person from Briseis with intermittent 3rd person chapters from the POV of Achilles, this is both accurate to the tone, register and thought-world of ancien

    This is the best modern re-telling of the Iliad that I've read - even if it does perhaps extend too far, taking in the aftermath of war as told in Athenian tragedies: the Hekabe, and the Trojan Women especially.

    Told in a straightforward narrative, the majority in 1st person from Briseis with intermittent 3rd person chapters from the POV of Achilles, this is both accurate to the tone, register and thought-world of ancient Greek epic and also a fully-formed novel in its own right. In that sense, it reminds me a little of Atwood's

    , especially with its attention to female experience - though it certainly lacks the savage playfulness of Atwood's piece.

    It's perhaps a little unfair that the premise claims that female voices are muted in the story of the Trojan war: Helen's weaving, which Barker rightly draws attention to, has been claimed by classical scholars as a form of female 'authorship' making her a parallel to Homer himself; and Athenian tragedy makes female voices - both lamenting and raging - central to the culture's experience. The Andromache, Hecuba, The Trojan Women, Iphigenia, Helen and others all make interventions in the Homeric story, telling 'the distaff side' of the tale.

    Nevertheless, there's certainly room for a modern 'Iliad' and especially one which side-steps the Mills-and-Boon-esque versions of writers like Madeleine Miller. Here we have a far more robust Achilles and (yes!) a female slave who *isn't* in love with him.

    Barker's experience of writing about war stands her in good stead and there are some echoes forward of trench warfare that draw comparisons with her WW1 work. But this book stands on its own feet: a glorious, subtle and wonderfully Homeric version of a tale made fresh again for a modern audience.

    Many thanks to Penguin for an ARC via NetGalley.

  • 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:

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • Ana

    A book about Troy, Briseis, Achilles, Hector, Agamemnon, Patroclus and the rest of the gang. TODAY WAS A GOOD DAY.

    Briseis and Achilles. I don't deserve this honor but I'll take it. I'm never getting off this cruise ship.

    Sorry, just channeling my inner 12-year-old.

    I was almost cured from my daily obsession and that book happened. This is all your fault, Val.

    A book about Troy, Briseis, Achilles, Hector, Agamemnon, Patroclus and the rest of the gang. TODAY WAS A GOOD DAY.

    Briseis and Achilles. I don't deserve this honor but I'll take it. I'm never getting off this cruise ship.

    Sorry, just channeling my inner 12-year-old.

    I was almost cured from my daily obsession and that book happened. This is all your fault, Val.

    Years of reading smutty Briseis/Achilles fanfiction has not prepared me for Pat Barker's dark poetry. Let me make one thing clear. This is not a romance novel. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I say that Greek mythology is beautifully tragic. This tale is no different. The author has managed to capture the true essence of Greek mythology. I appreciate her being straightforward and truthful in what happened and not romanticizing Achilles like many people do.

    You surely know the story, but let's quickly recap the plot:

    Agamemnon: I’m just being a greedy little bitch and want all the money, fame and happiness in the world for myself. I'm bored. We should totally attack Troy now.

    Priam: I’d rather be a lover than a fighter because all my life i’ve been fighting 🎵

    Hector: Honor, duty, patriotism, blah blah.

    Odysseus: I'm smart.

    Patroclus: I'd die for you Achilles. Period.

    Achilles: I'm tryna be emo just let me.

    Briseis: I will outlive you all.

    That's exactly the way it is. That's precisely what happened, ok?

    How is it even possible to underestimate Briseis? A woman of such great courage and strength.

    (The Return Of Briseis To Achilles by Sir Peter Paul Rubens)

    She endured so much over those years, and yet she kept fighting, against all odds. What exactly was her relationship with Achilles? I believe they both cared for each other even though they couldn’t admit it to themselves. Unfortunately, Briseis is often being overlooked, sometimes even dismissed as unimportant. I need to remind myself (and others) of this passage from The Iliad more often.

    Is The Silence of the Girls romantic? No. Neither was the Iliad. To really convey the disgusting horror of war, you have to show it. There are no real villains or heroes. We do what we must.

    If you're hopelessly obsessed with Greek mythology and you just want a normal life clap your hands. #craziesunite

    (La colère d'Achille pour la perte de Briseis by Domenico Cunego)

    Trigger warnings:

    Book playlist:

    Ruelle - Deep End

    MIIA – Dynasty

    Meggie's Theme - Henry Mancini

    X-Ray Dog - The Vision

    X Ray Dog - Requiem Overture

    Audiomachine - An Unfinished Life

    Audiomachine – The Truth

    Jamin Winans - Ink Soundtrack (John's Walk )

    James Horner - Briseis And Achilles – Troy

    Close Your Eyes - Buffy/Angel Theme

    Lisa Gerrard & Denez Prigent - Gortoz A Ran

    Mark Petrie – Surpass

    Zack Hemsey – See What I've Become

    Message To Bears – You Are a Memory["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

  • 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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  • Jo (An Unexpected Geek)

    I was greatly excited to get my hands on a beautiful, hardback copy of this particular book. The cover art is just stunning, and really does look amazing in my bookcase. When I realised that this book was potentially a retelling of "The Iliad" but told from an entirely different perspective, I was intrigued. When I discovered it was going to be told from the perspective of Breseis, that was enough to make me purchase the book.

    The story Barker tells in this book, is essentially one of rape and sl

    I was greatly excited to get my hands on a beautiful, hardback copy of this particular book. The cover art is just stunning, and really does look amazing in my bookcase. When I realised that this book was potentially a retelling of "The Iliad" but told from an entirely different perspective, I was intrigued. When I discovered it was going to be told from the perspective of Breseis, that was enough to make me purchase the book.

    The story Barker tells in this book, is essentially one of rape and slavery of the women, but unfortunately, in my opinion, I dont think enough was done to change the story. This is just the story of Achilles, told from a woman's perspective. Yes, granted, Breseis gives us her telling of events, but there really isn't no drastic or interesting change in the actual plot itself. I also noticed, that around halfway through the book, there was a strange third person narrative thrown in there, which was rather baffling as to why Barker would do that.

    I'm guilty of comparing here, too. In comparison to Millers "The Song of Achilles" this is just not as well written for me. I appreciate that both authors discuss the slavery and rape of women, that is so, so often just overlooked, but on an emotional level, "The song of Achilles" entirely captured my heart. In fact, that book STOLE my heart. Overall, I'm happy that I've read this rather overhyped book, but I'd definitely recommend not reading this and Miller's book close together.

  • Melanie

    This was my pick for the September 2018

    box!

    (This also sounds like everything I've ever wanted in a book...)

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