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The silence of the girls by Pat Barker

The silence of the girls (original 2018; edition 2019)

by Pat Barker

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1,0006814,294 (4)1 / 193
"From the Booker Prize-winning author of the Regeneration trilogy comes a monumental new masterpiece, set in the midst of literature's most famous war. Pat Barker turns her attention to the timeless legend of The Iliad, as experienced by the captured women living in the Greek camp in the final weeks of the Trojan War. The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, who continue 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 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 cooly 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"--"The Iliad, as experienced by the captured women living in the Greek camp in the final weeks of the Trojan War"--… (more)
Title:The silence of the girls
Authors:Pat Barker
Info:London : Penguin Books, 2019.
Collections:Currently reading

Work details

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (2018)

  1. 00
    Circe by Madeline Miller (avk88)
    avk88: Greek mythology retelling from female perspective
  2. 00
    Ransom by David Malouf (GCPLreader)
  3. 00
    Hand of Fire by Judith Starkston (Anonymous user)

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English (65)  Dutch (1)  All languages (66)
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Have to shout this from the rooftops -- a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant book -- stayed up late to read and woke early to finish. Pat Barker can be both lyrical and dry as dust when it serves this story, one of the most familiar ever, the siege of Troy. But in Barker's magical hands, the story is refreshed since it's told through the eyes (mostly) of Briseis, the Trojan noble taken captive in Achilles' siege of a city near Troy. All of the moments come straight from the Iliad, with a couple of additions from other interpretations of this all-to-familiar tale of hubris, vanity, greed and slaughter. Barker has written movingly -- searingly -- about slaughter in her World War I novels, and it's on vivid display here, a frontal assault on the stupidity and pointlessness of war. Briseis both accepts her fate and rails against it, as the slave to the thuggish Achilles -- who, at the same time, is as fastidious about the cultural rules of battle and diplomacy as anyone. Women have no hope here - either they are prizes to be distributed by fathers, brothers, and sons or they fall to the worst sort of degradation as slaves, subject to every abuse. Yet women fight to claim their stories, to see and be seen throughout the book. I'll keep this book alongside the brilliant [b:Circe|35959740|Circe|Madeline Miller|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1508879575s/35959740.jpg|53043399] by [a:Madeline Miller|176372|Madeline Miller|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1322861610p2/176372.jpg] as well as [a:Emily Wilson|478455|Emily Wilson|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1523444389p2/478455.jpg]'s gripping translation of [b:The Odyssey|34068470|The Odyssey|Homer|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1487351579s/34068470.jpg|3356006]. Women face these same fates today -- in Yemen, in Iraq, in North Korea, and among those desperate families seeking asylum in the United States. It's both a current story and the oldest one in the world. ( )
  MaximusStripus | Jul 7, 2020 |
1143 ( )
  Olivermagnus | Jul 2, 2020 |
Hmm! This was a fascinating take on the side of the Trojan War you don’t hear enough about: the women and what the ego-driven and male anger centric war meant for them and their lives. Loved Briseis as a narrator and the descriptions of the brutality, the rat infested camps, and the violent men were appropriately disturbing and vivid. I did feel like at times the language wasn’t quite right (some of the dialogue and phrases just... weren’t right for ancient greece) but overall this was something special.
Also loved the way Achilles’ and Patroclus’ relationship was written, 10/10.

Probably will write a full review soon.

Triggering warning for: rape & self harm ( )
  angelgay | Jul 1, 2020 |
This is one of those books that sits with you, long after you've finished reading. I was absorbed. Briseis' grief and anger are so tangible, I could feel them in the room like Achilles could feel Patroclus' ghost. I loved Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller and was delighted to receive this book as a gift and can honestly say I was not disappointed. It's feminist, it's heartbreaking, and it tells a side of the story often ignored. This is not a book easily forgotten, although neither is Briseis. ( )
  JulianaMD | Jun 1, 2020 |
'' 'Divine Muse, sing of the ruinous wrath of Achilles...Begin where they first quarrelled, Agamemnon the King of men and great Achilles.' And what are they quarrelling about, these two violent, mighty souls? It's as basic as a barroom brawl. They are quarrelling over a woman. A girl, really. A girl stolen from her father. A girl abducted in a war.''

The Human Stain, Philip Roth

Queen Briseis can hear the army approaching her land. The Myrmidons, brave warriors, led by the greatest of men. Achilles, son of a goddess, favoured by gods and men. And equally doomed. Then, Briseis becomes a slave, one of the dozens of women who find themselves soulless trophies in the quarters of the victorious armies. Such is the fate of the spoils of war...

The Iliad is the '' mother'' of Western Literature. I'd say it is perfect by any standards. A ferocious story, immortal characters, love, intrigue, treachery, bravery, mercy, violence. But these are just words. The Iliad is greatness itself because it holds a mirror to every tiny speckle of the human soul. Our egoism, our fixated notion of ''right'' and ''wrong''. Our eagerness to degrade others, our merciless ability to wound those we love, our pride. And our blindness...

Pat Barker creates a marvellous work, based on one of the most intriguing characters of The Iliad, Briseis. The woman who found herself in the centre of the dispute that painfully divided the army of the Achaeans (if you don't know who the Achaeans are, I shall be severely frustrated...). Briseis is a big question mark in the epic. Can we allow ourselves to become romantic and believe he was in love with her? Was it just his wounded pride? Was she in love with her captor? Who can say, really? If we know The Iliad well, we have formed our own opinions. In Barker's novel, the lines are blurred and I loved that. As a reader, it gave me immense freedom and a great opportunity to contemplate. There are no cardboard characters. Achilles isn't a monster, Briseis isn't the soulless, hopeless victim. She and the rest of the women try to make do with what they are allowed. The men fight, their wrath over a futile war to satisfy Agamemnon's greed has overcome the sense of righting the wrong and erupts. The women are the watchers. Yes, the victims, the voiceless one. But not being able to give a loud voice to your thoughts doesn't mean that you are silent.

''Sometimes at night I lie awake and quarrel with the voices in my head.''

Briseis was a queen, but a slave nonetheless. She just changed masters and I am not sure who was the worst. Her husband was filth. She was childless. No child equals non-existence. So, where is the freedom in that? She seemed freer in captivity than in her now destroyed palace. Therefore, I don't agree with the view that Briseis remains silent. How is she silent? Her thoughts are our primary guide to the narrative. One's voice isn't limited to words. Sometimes, thoughts are much more eloquent. And much more interesting. I also enjoyed the focus on Achilles during the second half of the novel and I appreciated Barker's portrayal of him. I've never liked him but I have to understand him better through her approach. You CANNOT have a novel about Briseis without Achilles. Deal with it. There are a few modern colloquialisms but I can swear on my bookcases that I didn't pay any attention to them. And that says a lot about the power of Barker's writing.

Much has been written about The Silence of the Girls, and I don't want to tire you. I don't dwell in pseudo-feminist messages or whatever they're called. Literary value is much more important than dubious labels. Pat Barker's writing moved me, terrified me, made me anxious to reach the end, an end I know like the back of my palm because I am Greek, the Homeric epics are in our blood. This novel stands among my favourite ''Trojan War'' works, along with Margaret George's Helen of Troy and Bradley's The Firebrand. It proves that quiet lyricism and depth need no verbose tricks to form a powerful novel.

''So we spent the nights curled up like spiders at the centre of our webs. Only we weren't the spiders; we were the flies.''

My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.wordpress.com/ ( )
1 vote AmaliaGavea | Apr 21, 2020 |
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“You know how European literature begins?” he’d ask, after taking the roll at the first class meeting. “With a quarrel. All of European literature springs from a fight.” And then he picked up his copy of The Iliad and read to the class the opening lines. “ ‘Divine Muse, sing of the ruinous wrath of Achilles…Begin where they first quarrelled, Agamemnon, the King of men, and great Achilles.’ And what are they quarrelling about, these two violent, mighty souls? It’s as basic as a barroom brawl. They are quarrelling over a woman. A girl, really. A girl stolen from her father. A girl abducted in a war.”

—The Human Stain, Philip Roth”
For my children, John and Anna; and, as always,

in loving memory of David
First words
Great Achilles. Brilliant Achilles, shining Achilles, godlike Achilles…How the epithets pile up. We never called him any of those things; we called him “the butcher.”
It was astonishing the way really quite intelligent women seemed to believe that if they carried their eyeliner beyond the outer corner of the lid and gave it a little upward flick, they'd have Helen's eyes. Or if they fastened their cinctures the same way she did hers, they'd have Helen's breasts. All this mindless imitation of a woman they affected to despise...No wonder she laughed at them.
Poor Mynes. His idea of female beauty was a woman so fat if you slapped her backside in the morning she'd still be jiggling when you got back home for dinner.
Yes, the death of young men in battle is a tragedy - I’d lost four brothers, I didn’t need anybody to tell me that. A tragedy worthy of any number of laments - but theirs is not the worst fate. I looked at Andromache, who’d have to live the rest of her amputated life as a slave, and I thought: We need a new song.
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 brother
The defeated go down in history and disappear, and their stories die with them
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