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The Silence of the Girls (2018)

by Pat Barker

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Women of Troy (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,3401036,510 (3.95)1 / 328
"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)
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» See also 328 mentions

English (97)  Dutch (3)  French (1)  All languages (101)
Showing 1-5 of 97 (next | show all)
This novel is a retelling of the Illiad and focuses on the last few weeks of the Trojan war leading up to the sacking of Troy, the slaughter of its male inhabitants and the enslavement of its women. It begins with the viewpoint of Briseis, a pivotal character in the Illiad but one not given her own voice. Queen of Lyrnessus, a satellite city of Troy, she is handed to Achilles as war price for his part in the sacking of her city, which included the slaughter of all the men and boys. After witnessing the cutting down of her brothers and husband by Achilles, she must endure being his bed-girl which includes rape, and later on more abuse by Agamemnon, the King in charge of the Greek army with whom Achilles had a falling out.

I found the earlier parts more interesting because as the book progresses there are sections from the viewpoint of Achilles. Possibly this is to include events and conversations which Briseis could not witness, being both female and a slave. It develops Achilles as a layered character with his own demons and throws more light on the devoted relationship between him and Patroclus, a King's son who, as a boy, killed another boy in an argument over a game of dice and was sent to become Achilles' companion. Patroclus, too, has more sides, one of them being that he is the only man in the camp who is kind to the female captives.

There is a deliberate anachronistic use of British slang and rude rugby songs in the book which on the whole I didn't mind but which occasionally jarred. I had hoped for more on how the female captives interacted. Maybe the title is a clue, because around the men the slaves have to keep quiet and among themselves they talk more about the men, probably because the men have the power of life and death over them. As Briseis herself says bitterly, she is part of Achilles' story. Also despite the overall blood-and-guts realism, the story veers into supernatural territory with the inclusion of Achilles' sea nymph mother - other people see her so she isn't some psychological quirk of his - and the transformation of Hector's corpse. The cover of this edition is also very striking.

On the grounds that I enjoyed this retelling more than 'The Song of Achilles' by Madeline Miller, enough to order the follow-up, I'm awarding this an additional star and give it a 4 star rating. ( )
  kitsune_reader | Nov 23, 2023 |
What a tour de force! The Trojan War from a woman's perspective... Really powerful! ( )
  decaturmamaof2 | Nov 22, 2023 |
I love retellings. There's something particularly enjoyable for me in reading a familiar story from a different point of view, and I particularly enjoy the ones where traditionally male-centric stories are re-told from women's perspectives. Similarly to other great retellings, like The Penelopiad and Circe, The Silence of the Girls takes on Greek mythology, and in particular the Trojan war.

The book is told entirely through the point of view of Briseis, a queen forced to become a slave after the Greeks conquer her city and murder her husband. While in the original Briseis is little more than a plot device to explain Achilles's rage and refusal to fight, here she finally takes on a full life, and her story is told fully. All the characters, from the well-known Greek heroes to the mostly-forgotten women who live with them, are beautifully portrayed and explored, and I really enjoyed seeing them interact in new ways. Briseis and the other women really take centre stage here, and they hold it perfectly, sharing their stories so that they will not be forgotten, and in so doing remembering all the women whose voices were taken away.

Although I mostly found this an interesting and gripping new take on an old classic, there were a few times when the pacing of the book fell a bit flat for me and it felt somewhat repetitive, especially in some parts describing camp life. I was also not too keen on how much focus was on Achilles at one point - we got enough of that elsewhere, and I just didn't feel the need for it here. This book also openly discusses violence of various kinds and rape, which might be triggering to some people.

Overall, The Silence of the Girls was an excellent retelling, giving us some insight in the life of the voiceless and forgotten. Ultimately, it is a tale of resilience and resistance, in whichever way that may be possible, and the real, human effects of war once the glamour and glory are removed.

I received an e-arc of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book in any way.
( )
  bookforthought | Nov 7, 2023 |
In this novel Barker retells the legend of the Trojan War from the perspective of Briseis, a young woman from a royal family now war prize belonging to Achilles. Overall, I have mixed feelings about the book. Its promise is a story from women's perspectives and, while a good chunk was first-person Briseis, a disappointing number of scenes were narrated by an omniscient third person in order to reveal what the men were up to, which seemed unnecessary and occasionally threw me out of the story. I've read and enjoyed a fair number of retellings from Ancient Greece, and overall found this lacking in charm and kind of forgettable. ( )
  ryner | Oct 11, 2023 |
This was so much better than I expected.

I was expecting a simple retelling of the Iliad from a woman's perspective. I was not expecting something so realistic and feminist. Something that speaks to the truth of war for women. Something that makes it so clear how courageous women have always been in ways that are not acknowledged as such, but rather are portrayed as a sign of their weakness.

I loved it! ( )
  Zoes_Human | Oct 2, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 97 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barker, Patprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Arribas, Carlos JiménezTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Atherton, KristinNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bosch, EefjeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bury, LaurentTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
翁海贞Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fox, MichaelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ganho, TâniaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Κανελλοπού… ΔέσποιναTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jiménez Arribas, CarlosTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johansson, EvaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Karsch, LauraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Novotná, KateřinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Odeh, AlaaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Palmieri, CarlaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
فرزام حبیبی‌ا, صفهانیTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Young, SarahCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Прокуров, Р.Н.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
“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
Dedication
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.”
Quotations
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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"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"--

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