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 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.

The Silence of the Girls Details

TitleThe Silence of the Girls
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseSep 4th, 2018
PublisherDoubleday Books
ISBN-139780385544214
Rating
GenreHistorical, Historical Fiction, Fiction, Fantasy, Mythology, Retellings

The Silence of the Girls Review

  • Emily May
    January 1, 1970
    "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’." The Silence of the Girls is a retelling of Homer's The Iliad 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 "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’." The Silence of the Girls is a retelling of Homer's The Iliad 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 frank, gritty portrayal 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 The Silence of the Lambs 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. She was like a windflower trembling on its slender stem, so fragile you feel it can’t possibly survive the blasts that shake it, though it survives them all. I wanted to give it a higher rating, but I can't shake the impression that The Silence of the Girls 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 The Silence of the Girls, 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 the author assures us it was intentional.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 The Song of Achilles but less than her Circe. As far as books that give voices to the lesser-known women of ancient myths go, Circe still comes out on top for me.CW: Rape (on-page); war; graphic violence; one incidence of self-harm.Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube
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  • jessica
    January 1, 1970
    sometimes it feels as if my hearts only purpose is to beat for greek mythology and this book is a gift, straight from zeus himself, to give me life. this retelling of the trojan war is, simply put, stunning. whilst classic myths tell about the glory and conquests of men, this focuses on the quiet and unassuming presence of women. elegantly written from the point of briseis, the reader is given a unique perspective that is often overlooked. ‘we are going to survive – our songs, our stories. theyl sometimes it feels as if my hearts only purpose is to beat for greek mythology and this book is a gift, straight from zeus himself, to give me life. this retelling of the trojan war is, simply put, stunning. whilst classic myths tell about the glory and conquests of men, this focuses on the quiet and unassuming presence of women. elegantly written from the point of briseis, the reader is given a unique perspective that is often overlooked. ‘we are going to survive – our songs, our stories. theyll never be able to forget us. decades after the last man who fought at troy is dead, their sons will remember the songs their trojan mothers sang to them. we will be in their dreams – and in their worst nightmares, too.’ (however, it is worth noting that although the title and this quote suggest otherwise, briseis is the only female point of view in this. and while that didnt lessen my reading experience, i know it might disappoint other readers, as the story doesnt quite live up to the feminist view that it promises.) what really made me fall in love with this is how complex achilles is portrayed and how his relationship with briseis develops from the moment she is captured as a spoil of war, to the end of the ten year conflict, and all the deaths in between. and although the achilles and briseis in this retelling arent quite my achilles and brisies (‘the song of achilles’ is my sworn gospel truth concerning all things trojan war), the character differences didnt lessen this story in the slightest. its still very faithful to the work of homer, but lends a modern feel to a timeless classic. i really enjoyed this and i know any fan of the trojan war will be pleased with this, as well. ↠ 4.5 stars
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  • Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies
    January 1, 1970
    I was a slave, and a slave will do anything, anything at all, to stop being a thing and become a person again. 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 I was a slave, and a slave will do anything, anything at all, to stop being a thing and become a person again. 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. Iphition. Eighteen when he died. Achilles killed him with a sword cut straight down the middle of his head, the two sides falling neatly apart, like a split walnut, to expose the convoluted brain. Dropping to the ground, he fell under the hooves of Achilles’s trampling horses and the chariot wheels ground him deep into the mud. 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.
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  • Meredith
    January 1, 1970
    “The defeated go down in history and disappear, and their stories die with them.”The Silence of the Girls is a dark and weighty retelling of the Iliad. Told from the voice of one of the defeated, Briseis, the reader is offered a different perspective on the destruction of Troy. 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. “And “The defeated go down in history and disappear, and their stories die with them.”The Silence of the Girls is a dark and weighty retelling of the Iliad. Told from the voice of one of the defeated, Briseis, the reader is offered a different perspective on the destruction of Troy. 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. “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 brothers.” 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. She finds her purpose and her power in storytelling: “Silence becomes a woman.” .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?” In spite of this, The Silence of the Girls is a rich and thought-provoking tale. It is a complex and, at times, chilling read that shines a light on a new mythical heroine.
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  • Melanie
    January 1, 1970
    This was my pick for the September 2018 Book of the Month box! “Looking back, it seemed to me I’d been trying to escape not just from the camp, but from Achilles's story; and I’d failed. Because make no mistake, this was his story—his anger, his grief, his story. I was angry, I was grieving, but somehow that didn’t matter.” Hi, my name is Melanie and 2018 has been the year that I constantly talk about my love for Greek mythos retellings. The Silence of the Girls is a feminist reimagining of Ho This was my pick for the September 2018 Book of the Month box! “Looking back, it seemed to me I’d been trying to escape not just from the camp, but from Achilles's story; and I’d failed. Because make no mistake, this was his story—his anger, his grief, his story. I was angry, I was grieving, but somehow that didn’t matter.” Hi, my name is Melanie and 2018 has been the year that I constantly talk about my love for Greek mythos retellings. The Silence of the Girls is a feminist reimagining of Homer's The Iliad, 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 content and trigger warnings 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. “Another successful raid, another city destroyed, men and boys killed, women and girls enslaved—all in all, a good day. And there was still the night to come.” I also want to say that I just reread The Song of Achilles 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 The Iliad and that didn’t change in The Silence of the Girls. 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. “Nobody wins a trophy and hides it at the back of a cupboard. You want it where it can be seen, so that other men will envy you.” 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. “Silence become a woman.” 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. Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Tumblr | Youtube | TwitchBuddy read with Imi at Imi Reviews Books! ❤
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  • Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
    January 1, 1970
    All the stars to my new favorite read, The Silence of the Girls!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 All the stars to my new favorite read, The Silence of the Girls!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: www.jennifertarheelreader.com
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  • Rachel
    January 1, 1970
    It's so hard to divorce my love of the Iliad from my experience reading The Silence of the Girls, 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 Iliad from my experience reading The Silence of the Girls, 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, The Silence of the Girls 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 Iliad 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 Iliad into Barker's story, in a way that I haven't seen achieved by any other retelling I've read (except maybe Ransom by David Malouf, which until now has been my go-to recommendation for modern Iliad 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 Iliad and the quiet moments of beauty in the story and everything in between. It's definitely a subtler feminist retelling than the likes of Circe and The Penelopiad, but I have to say I much, much preferred The Silence of the Girls - 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.Thank you to Netgalley, Doubleday Books, and Pat Barker for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Paromjit
    January 1, 1970
    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!
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  • Tammy
    January 1, 1970
    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?
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  • Tatiana
    January 1, 1970
    30%, I am calling it quitsI 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 quitsI 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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  • Hannah Greendale
    January 1, 1970
    This reads as if Barker set out to retell "The Iliad" from the perspective of the women and - whoopsy - forgot that was the goal and wrote a book about Achilles instead. Don't be fooled; The Silence of the Girls only follows one woman, briefly, and she harbors an apathetic, compliant view towards rape. Very disappointed to have spent money on a book that doesn't even come close to delivering what it promises.What can I say? He wasn't cruel. I waited for it - expected it, even - but there was not This reads as if Barker set out to retell "The Iliad" from the perspective of the women and - whoopsy - forgot that was the goal and wrote a book about Achilles instead. Don't be fooled; The Silence of the Girls only follows one woman, briefly, and she harbors an apathetic, compliant view towards rape. Very disappointed to have spent money on a book that doesn't even come close to delivering what it promises.What can I say? He wasn't cruel. I waited for it - expected it, even - but there was nothing like that, at least it was soon over. He fucked as quickly as he killed, and for me it was the same thing. Something in me died that night. I lay there, hating him, though of course he wasn't doing anything he didn't have a perfect right to do. If his prize of honour had been the armour of a great lord he wouldn't have rested till he'd tried it out: lifted the shield, picked up the sword, assessed its length and weight, slashed it a few times through the air. That's what he did to me. He tried me out.
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  • Puck
    January 1, 1970
    "I was a slave, and a slave will do anything, anything at all, to stop being a thing and become a person again." This book was not what I hoped it would be. After reading Circe this summer and falling in love with it, I couldn’t wait to read more historic novels about Greek Mythology. Yet where this story promised to be a retelling of the Iliad from the perspective of the girls (multiple!), I only get one girl. For a while.The beginning and the first volume are very strong. Queen Briseis and "I was a slave, and a slave will do anything, anything at all, to stop being a thing and become a person again." This book was not what I hoped it would be. After reading Circe this summer and falling in love with it, I couldn’t wait to read more historic novels about Greek Mythology. Yet where this story promised to be a retelling of the Iliad from the perspective of the girls (multiple!), I only get one girl. For a while.The beginning and the first volume are very strong. Queen Briseis and the other women hide away while their town is sacked by the Greeks and their leader Achilles, and although they know what to expect, Barker softens no war-horror: babies murdered, gang-rape, young girls committing suicide to save themselves. Through Briseis’ eyes we see it all happen, and how she’s later given to Achilles as a ‘gift’: the man who butchered her brothers now becomes her master.A brutal and horrifying story, yet we keep following Briseis, and none of the other stolen women: the other concubines of Greek officers, the washerwomen, the poor slaves doing the lowest jobs. Not even ‘known’ Iliad women like Chryseis, Thetis or even Helen (where is the Iliad retelling from her perspective?!) get a voice, and the more I followed only Briseis, I more annoyed I got. “Because, make no mistake, this was his story-his anger, his grief, his story. I was angry, I was grieving, but somehow that didn’t matter. Here I was [...] still trapped, still stuck inside his story, and yet with no real part to play.” Because the lack of female voices wasn’t the worst. The worst was when Volume II started, suddenly Achilles himself takes over the story. Briseis is reduced to a silent witness, the (known) role she plays in the Agamemnon-Achilles conflict; Achilles often doesn’t even recalls her name. What the Hades: I don’t care about the story of Achilles! I don’t care about his fight with Agamemnon, his relationship with Patroclus (which stays annoyingly obscure), his weird mother-issues: this all is told in the Iliad itself! Yet that’s what this book becomes after the first 1/3 is done: a non-refreshing recount of the Trojan War, mentioning all the known events (the Fall of Troy, the ending of Achilles and Patroclus), leaving Briseis and the other women as a footnote in the grand tale. So in a way, the title of this book is fitting: the girls indeed stay silent. What a waste of potential.
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  • Jenna
    January 1, 1970
    "Yes, the death of young men in battle is a tragedy... A tragedy worthy of any number of laments—but theirs is not the worst fate." History is told from the point of view of the historian. Because of this, we often do not know the entire truth; we do not know both sides of a story. We do not hear how "the other" thinks and feels. We have little written by women from the ancient world and thus we do not know how they might have thought and felt about the world they lived in, their particular str "Yes, the death of young men in battle is a tragedy... A tragedy worthy of any number of laments—but theirs is not the worst fate." History is told from the point of view of the historian. Because of this, we often do not know the entire truth; we do not know both sides of a story. We do not hear how "the other" thinks and feels. We have little written by women from the ancient world and thus we do not know how they might have thought and felt about the world they lived in, their particular struggles and heartaches, their dreams and successes. We can only speculate what those might be. In Homer's The Iliad Briseis was a minor character, daughter of Briseus and an unnamed mother (hey, she's a woman! She doesn't need a name!). When the Greeks conquered her city during the Trojan War, Briseis was given as a war prize to Achilles. In The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker delivers a beautifully written account of Briseis, told from her point of view. She is brought to life in vibrant detail and I absolutely loved this book. We get to see what life was like for the captured, the women who became slaves to the victors. What was it like to be taken from your homeland and given over to a man or men as an object, usually a sex object? To lose not only your family and home but also your identity, dignity, and freedom? With stunning insight, exquisite prose, and rich character development, Ms. Barker gives a voice to Briseis, a voice that had been silenced for millennia. Fans of Madeline's Miller's The Song of Achilles will love this book, as will those who are interested in stories of ancient Greece. I highly recommend it! 4.5 stars rounded up to 5. A half star was removed because the author had an irritating (to me) habit of writing "we-ell", as in "we-ell, I don't..." "we-ell, obviously...". It made Briseis sound immature and vapid and would have been better written simply as "well". Thankfully, this occurred less than 10 times, though after the first it annoyed me (perhaps I'm just overly particular). That slight complaint aside, the book was brilliant!
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  • Roman Clodia
    January 1, 1970
    I've been trying to escape not just from the camp but from Achilles' story 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 I've been trying to escape not just from the camp but from Achilles' story 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 The Penelopiad, 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.
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  • Emer
    January 1, 1970
    'The Silence of the Girls' is an utterly compelling read. It aims to tell the story of the typically voiceless women during the Trojan War by focusing the story primarily on the perspective of Briseis who was once nobility but during the war became Achilles' slave. And for the most part I believe it fulfils its aims. The book doesn't flinch from portraying the barbarity of war time and is filled with gory battlefield depictions and a lot of sexual violence. This doesn't make for an easy read but 'The Silence of the Girls' is an utterly compelling read. It aims to tell the story of the typically voiceless women during the Trojan War by focusing the story primarily on the perspective of Briseis who was once nobility but during the war became Achilles' slave. And for the most part I believe it fulfils its aims. The book doesn't flinch from portraying the barbarity of war time and is filled with gory battlefield depictions and a lot of sexual violence. This doesn't make for an easy read but it makes for a necessary one I believe. So much of the time Greek heroes are romanticised and we forget their cruelty; we forget how in times of war cruelty and kindness are frequently bedfellows and this book explores that ideology to its fullest. I found it incredibly refreshing to read a book with such well rounded characterisations of these familiar mythic names: characters such as Briseis, Achilles, Patroclus and Agamemnon all had light and dark facets to their personalities and felt eminently human. I also thoroughly enjoyed the choices that Barker made regarding plot development and plot pacing, and even though I am quite familiar with the story of the Trojan War I was never once bored by a sense of inevitability or predictability. There was definitely a freshness and vitality to this interpretation. There are however some choices with the narrative style that at times felt a little clunky... For one the language style is rather harsh, modern; for me on occasion the book just jars a little with some of the turns of phrase chosen. The other slightly jarring choice is when the narrative switches from Briseis' first person perspective to Achilles' third... I understand the aims of the author in trying to show the completeness of the war story but it does feel somewhat an unusual choice given that the title of the book is 'The Silence of the Girls'. Also, it does happen somewhat haphazardly and as I was reading the perspective changes always momentarily pulled me out of the reading experience. However, the ending of the book does somewhat explain these perspective choices and its purpose, but for me there was something off in the execution of this ultimate aim. However, this is definitely a book I would recommend to anyone with an interest in Greek mythology and makes for an interesting companion piece to The Iliad and also to Madeline Miller's 'The Song of Achilles'.
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  • Nenia ✨ Queen of Literary Trash, Protector of Out-of-Print Gems, Khaleesi of Bodice Rippers, Mother of Smut, the Unrepentant, Breaker of Convention ✨ Campbell
    January 1, 1970
    Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || PinterestMan, people are getting all up in this book's face because it doesn't read like Madeline Miller. Of course it doesn't read like Madeline Miller. Do you see the name Madeline Miller on the cover? No; it says "Pat Barker." It's like marching up to your step-mom and saying, "YOU'RE NOT MY REAL MOM." Well, duh. But that doesn't necessarily mean that she's a bad person, either.THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS appeared on Netgalley one fine summer day, a Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || PinterestMan, people are getting all up in this book's face because it doesn't read like Madeline Miller. Of course it doesn't read like Madeline Miller. Do you see the name Madeline Miller on the cover? No; it says "Pat Barker." It's like marching up to your step-mom and saying, "YOU'RE NOT MY REAL MOM." Well, duh. But that doesn't necessarily mean that she's a bad person, either.THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS appeared on Netgalley one fine summer day, and I did what I do with all ARCs: applied for it, and then promptly forgot about it until it was about to expire. When I saw that it was about Ancient Greece, however, I immediately prioritized it a little higher on my to-read list, because I love learning about antiquity. Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece - that sort of thing is my jazz. I could listen to it all day.I actually read this book at the perfect time because I had just finished another book called A THOUSAND SHIPS, which is about the events in The Iliad that lead up to the Trojan War. In THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS, everyone is already in the thick of it, and things are nearing the end. The narrator is Briseis, a casualty of the Trojan war, who ends up becoming a war prize/concubine of Achilles after watching everyone in her home be slaughtered or raped depending on their gender. She is also part of the dispute between Agamemnon and Achilles, which ends up resulting in the turning point of the war, AKA When Achilles Loses His Sh*t™.Most of the story is narrated by Briseis, but some of it is also narrated by Achilles. I wasn't really interested in his narrative, because he was a Sad Boy with Mommy Issues™ who Freud would have a serious field day with (seriously, the "sex" scenes in this book were wtf). It is not a book for the faint of heart. The author really does not shirk on the physical and sexual violence. As William Tecumseh Sherman said, "War is hell." But it's especially hell for women, who are basically considered chattel as far as the men in this book are considered, and whether they're being sacrificed on a pyre, spat on, abused, assaulted, or treated with the most condescending sort of compassion possible, they are still considered objects - objects resented, cherished, despised, coveted, but objects all the same.I remember reading somewhere recently that Greek heroes aren't really the same as American heroes, in that many of them were not Good People. They did awful things (see Hercules/Herakles) in the name of glory. Many of them would probably be closer to villains, now that I think about it, who are far more consumed by vainglory than our (almost self-abnegating) selfless heroes. Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, I remember exactly where I heard that quote: it was in Lindsey Ellis's review of Disney's Hercules (a must-watch; she really has the most excellent feminist/cinematographic rhetoric). And I think she has a good point. Achilles, too, is awful. Pat Barker lays that out clearly.Barker also makes the odd choice of writing this book with modern language. Margaret Atwood did that too with the PENELOPIAD, but that feels like more of a post-mortem retrospective, whereas this takes place in Ancient Greece - and yet, they're talking like a bunch of modern British people. What gives with that? I saw that a lot of people who were criticizing this book took issue with that (yes, the Madeline Miller people, mostly) and I'm more sympathetic to this; the Greek myths were lyrical and dramatic, and its odd to have that sort of storytelling removed from the equation: odd and jarring.That said, I did enjoy this book. Parts of it were slow (Achilles) and it was unpleasant to read (horrific scenes), and told in an odd way, but the modern language also makes it easier to understand what's going on. I would not read this in lieu of The Iliad, but it makes for a nice supplement.Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy! 3 stars
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  • Paul Fulcher
    January 1, 1970
    "'Silence becomes a woman.' Every woman I’ve ever known was brought up on that saying."Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls is a retelling of the Iliad, the story of Achilles at the siege of Troy. The epigraph to Barker's novel is what she has said in the inspiration for this book, a passage from Philip Roth's The Human Stain:"‘You know how European literature begins?’ he’d ask, after having taken the roll at the first class meeting. ‘With a quarrel. All of European literature springs from a fi "'Silence becomes a woman.' Every woman I’ve ever known was brought up on that saying."Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls is a retelling of the Iliad, the story of Achilles at the siege of Troy. The epigraph to Barker's novel is what she has said in the inspiration for this book, a passage from Philip Roth's The Human Stain:"‘You know how European literature begins?’ he’d ask, after having taken 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 quarreled , Agamemnon the King of men, and great Achilles.” And what are they quarreling about, these two violent, mighty souls? It’s as basic as a barroom brawl. They are quarreling over a woman. A girl, really. A girl stolen from her father. A girl abducted in a war.’"That girl is Briseis whose voice is entirely absent from the Iliad. Barker's aim and achievement is to give her back her voice.Briseis was the wife of King Mynes, ruler of the Trojan city of Lyrnessus. Even there, living in luxury, she notes that her husband is blind to the tensions between her, his mother and her slave girl lover:"Mynes seemed entirely unaware of the tension, but then in my experience men are curiously blind to aggression in women. They’re the warriors, with their helmets and armour, their swords and spears, and they don’t seem to see our battles – or they prefer not to. Perhaps if they realized we’re not the gentle creatures they take us for their own peace of mind would be disturbed?"As the novel opens, when she was aged 19, the city was conquered by the Greek coalition, Mynes and all of the males were slaughtered (her father, three brothers and husband by Achilles) and the women shared among the conquerors. Briseis was given as a prize to Achilles for his bravery in the conflict.Later in the siege of Troy, King Agamemnon, commander of the Greek forces, was forced to return one of his prizes, the 15 year old Chryseis, to her father, a priest of Apollo, to appease the god and stop a plague that is decimating the camp. In turn he demanded that Achilles, who had led the demands for him to return Chryseis, hand over Briseis to him. Achilles does so but then withdraws himself and his troops from the conflict, tipping the balance of forces in the Trojans favour. Achilles is only persuaded to rejoin the battle when his best friend, Patroclus, is killed by Hector while wearing Achilles own armour.Barker retells this story but in Briseis' first person words:"I’d become something altogether more sinister: I was the girl who’d caused the quarrel. Oh, yes, I’d caused it – in much the same way, I suppose, as a bone is responsible for a dogfight."I am writing this as someone whose own knowledge of The Iliad is fairly limited - Briseis is not a name I would have previously recognised. But that wasn't an issue reading the novel, it functions very well as a stand-alone self-contained text (with perhaps the occasional resort to Wikipedia for a who was that, or what happened next), and from others' reviews it seems to function equally well for those immersed in the original.I also haven't read many of the obvious peers for comparison, notably Madeleine Miller's novels such as Curve, so my review is in absolute not relative terms.Barker's telling isn't a modern rewrite but rather historical fiction. It sticks very closely to the original, only allowing herself leeway where there is more than one version (she has little time for the Achilles' heel story for example, she also has ). And it isn't a feminist rewrite - and perhaps all the better for that. Her Briseis is a living breathing woman of her time, she knows the rules by which she is required to live, but that doesn't stop her having her own views.The novel starts strikingly, immediately reminding us that history is written by the victors, here the Greeks not, as in Briseis case, the Trojans:"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’."The story takes us from the fall of Lyrnessus through to the death of Achilles and the fall of Troy, but in Barker's retelling we get less of the glory and more of the human reality of blood and guts, less of the heroic Greek warriors and more of the stories of the Trojan women, bereaved and handed out as trophies to the very men who killed their own loved ones. After Briseis is first is forced to sleep with Achilles:"I lay there, hating him, though of course he wasn’t doing anything he didn’t have a perfect right to do. If his prize of honour had been the armour of a great lord he wouldn’t have rested till he’d tried it out: lifted the shield, picked up the sword, assessed its length and weight, slashed it a few times through the air. That’s what he did to me. He tried me out."As later Priam comes secretly to the enemy camp to plead with Achilles for the return of his son Hector's body, he says:"'I do what no man before me has ever done, I kiss the hands of the man who killed my son.' Those words echoed round me, as I stood in the storage hut, surrounded on all sides by the wealth Achilles had plundered from burning cities. 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 brothers.'"Briseis key aim is to restore her status as a person, not a thing to be traded as a war trophy.Contemplating the prospect of becoming Achilles wife, she enters in to a dialogue with the reader:"'Would you really have married the man who’d killed your brothers?'Well, first of all, I wouldn’t have been given a choice. But yes, probably. Yes. I was a slave, and a slave will do anything , anything at all, to stop being a thing and become a person again. 'I just don’t know how you could do that.'Well, no, of course you don’t. You’ve never been a slave."As her relationship with King Priam temporarily reminds others of her status:"Automedon blinked, forced, for a moment – and I honestly think it was for the first time – to see me as a human being, somebody who had a sister – and a sister, moreover, who was King Priam’s daughter- in-law.As she contemplates trying to return with Priam to the doomed Troy:"I saw my sister, my brother-in-law, the warmth and safety of their home – and above and beyond all that, the great prize of freedom. Me – myself again, a person with family, friends, a role in life. A woman, not a thing. Wasn’t that a prize worth risking everything for, however short a time I might have to enjoy it?"One challenge the author faced is that there is a practical limit to how much of the story Briseis can have witnessed. While she succeeds in inserting her into several crucial moments, and at times has her relaying indirect reports of what happened elsewhere, for around a quarter of the novel Barker resorts to replacing Briseis' first person narration with a privileged third person narration from the perspective of the male characters, particularly Achilles (or Briseis later understanding of their perspective? the narrator's identity is a little unclear). I can understand why she has felt it necessary to do this, although it would have been a braver decision to have done without it, and allow some of the well-known drama between Achilles and Agamemnon simply not to be present on the page and merely seen by the impact on Briseis (and to the reader via their background knowledge of the story).The third person sections do allow the novel to also present a (revisionist) character study of Achilles himself, one that present him as something of a Mummy's boy, still a child to his immortal mother the Nereid Thetis. Briseis first sees this, but without knowing what she sees, when she witnesses Achilles swimming (unusually for the time) and then seemingly speaking to the sea:"He seemed to be arguing  with the sea, arguing or pleading  . . . The only word I thought I  understood was ‘Mummy’ and that made no sense at all. Mummy?   No, that couldn’t be right. But then he said it again: ‘Mummy, Mummy, ’like a small child crying to be picked up. It had to mean something else, but then ‘Mummy’is the same, or nearly the same, in so many different languages. Whatever it meant, I knew I shouldn’t be hearing it, but I didn’t dare move and so I crouched down and waited for it to stop."Later a privileged third person section gives us Achilles perspective:"He is, first and foremost, ‘the son of Peleus’– the name he’s known by throughout the army; his original, and always his most important, title. But that’s his public self. When he’s alone, and especially on those early-morning visits to the sea, he knows himself to be, inescapably, his mother’s son. She left when he was not quite seven, the age at which a boy leaves the women’s quarters and enters the world of men. Perhaps that’s why he never quite managed to make the transition, though it would astonish the men who’ve fought beside him to hear him say that. But of course he doesn’t say it. It’s a flaw, a weakness; he knows to keep it well hidden from the world. Only at night, drifting between sleep and waking, he finds himself back in the briny darkness of her womb, the long mistake of mortal life erased at last."This theme - that each of the warriors who fought and died is ultimately a mother's son - is brought out powerfully when Briseis first gives us the long list of those slaughtered by Achilles in the assault on Troy and how he vanquished them, and then gives us their mother's memory of them, for example:"And then – Laogonus and Dardanus, brothers. They clung to the sides of their chariot, but Achilles hooked them out of it, as easily as picking out winkles with a pin. And then he killed them, quickly, efficiently, one with a spear thrust, the other with his sword. And then –""But you see the problem, don’t you? How on earth can you feel any pity or concern confronted by this list of intolerably nameless names? In later life, wherever I went, I always looked for the women of Troy who’d been scattered all over the Greek world. That skinny old woman with brown-spotted hands shuffling to answer her master’s door, can that really be Queen Hecuba, who, as a young and beautiful girl, newly married, had led the dancing in King Priam’s hall? Or that girl in the torn and shabby dress, hurrying to fetch water from the well, can that be one of Priam’s daughters?...I met a lot of the women, many of them common women whose names you won’t have heard. And so I can tell you that the brothers Laogonus and Dardanus weren’t just brothers, they were twins. When they were little, Dardanus’speech was so bad his own mother couldn’t understand him. ‘What’s he saying?’she’d ask his brother. ‘He says he wants a slice of bread,’Laogonus would reply. ‘You’ve got to make him talk,’ the boys' grandmother said. ‘Make him ask for it himself.’ ‘But I was busy,’ the mother told me. ‘I’d have been stood there hours if I’d listened to her.’And Briseis realises, defiantly, that by fathering children with their Trojan women, the Greeks have accidentally ensured the survival of their culture:"We’re going to survive – our songs, our stories. They’ll never be able to forget us. Decades after the last man who fought at Troy is dead, their sons will remember the songs their Trojan mothers sang to them. We’ll be in their dreams – and in their worst nightmares too."One slightly odd note is sounded by the occasional imposition of slang speech patterns in dialogues, for example:"‘Oooh, sorry I spoke.’""He made love – huh! – as if he hoped the next fuck would kill me.""I’d survived. We-ell, in a manner of speaking I’d survived.""‘Not like he does.’ Achilles looked up at Patroclus. ‘Oh, c’mon, when have you ever seen me drunk?’""‘He’s not human,’ Ajax blurted out. ‘Well of course he bloody isn’t,’ Agamemnon said. ‘His mother’s a fish.’"If done consistently I would have less of an issue: we can't have the characters in an English language novel speaking vernacular ancient Greek, and standard British English is as good a representation as any. But the effect seems to have been rather randomly sprinkled in the text (and often in italics as if to draw attention).But that minor issue aside, this is a strong retelling.As the story concludes, Briseis realises that her attempt to tell her own story has to an extent failed. But Achilles is dead and her life is only just starting:"Suppose, suppose just once, once, in all these centuries, the slippery gods keep their word and Achilles is granted eternal glory in return for his early death under the walls of Troy . . .? What will they make of us, the people of those unimaginably distant times? One thing I do know : they won’t want the brutal reality of conquest and slavery. They won’t want to be told about the massacres of men and boys, the enslavement of women and girls. They won’t want to know we were living in a rape camp. No, they’ll go for something altogether softer. A love story, perhaps? I just hope they manage to work out who the lovers were. His story. His, not mine. It ends at his grave. Once, not so long ago, I tried to walk out of Achilles’ story – and failed. Now, my own story can begin."Thanks to the publisher via Netgalley for the ARC. 3.5 stars. Reduced to 3 on later reflection as the novel's flaws have remained with me as much as it's strengths.
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  • Trudie
    January 1, 1970
    I think Pat Barker is one of my favourite writers about war. The Regeneration Trilogy is the book series I compare all other World War I literature to. What I enjoy about Barker's style is she balances often intensely visceral and clinical descriptions of violence with a tender and complex exploration of the emotional impacts of warfare. I read Silence of the Girls much less as a retelling of The Iliad from a female perspective but more as Barker demonstrating that, even if we have moved from sw I think Pat Barker is one of my favourite writers about war. The Regeneration Trilogy is the book series I compare all other World War I literature to. What I enjoy about Barker's style is she balances often intensely visceral and clinical descriptions of violence with a tender and complex exploration of the emotional impacts of warfare. I read Silence of the Girls much less as a retelling of The Iliad from a female perspective but more as Barker demonstrating that, even if we have moved from swords and spears to rockets and missiles, the resulting "collateral damage" is almost identical. There are many ways to view this text. The Guardian review has it as a "Feminist Ilaid", The Atlantic as "The Iliad meets #Meto" and certainly Briseis is as our clear-eyed guide to all the misfortunes of women. Furthermore, I also thought Barker managed to convey a very realistic and complete portrait of grief in the later sections in which Achilles voice dominates. I appreciated that Barker has managed to strip this story down from all the Homeric heroism and classical beauty to take us back to the reality of things - rats, boredom, sexual violence, the ancient era version of shell shock and the appalling loss of life. Her decision to convey this using anachronisms of speech enhanced the story for me but your reaction to this could vary depending on how much you want this to be a faithful Ilaid experience. Leaving you with an excerpt from one of the more effecting parts for me, a list of names and deaths followed up by anecdotes of these men as boys told from their mothers. Devastating. And so began the greatest killing spree of the war.As it happens, I know the names of all the men he killed that day. I could recite them to you, if I thought there was any point....Dryops. A sword swipe to the neck that very nearly took off his head.And then -Demuchus. A spear in his right knee. As he stood there helpless, waiting, Achilles finished him off with a sword thrust to his neck.And then - But you see the problem, don't you ? How on earth can you feel any pity or concern confronted by this list of intolerably nameless names? Fingers-crossed for a Womans Prize 2019 short-listing for Pat Barker.
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  • Patty
    January 1, 1970
    A retelling of the Trojan War from the perspective of Briseis (minor Trojan queen, taken as a war prize and given to Achilles as a slave, then claimed by Agamemnon), and given a radical, feminist spin by focusing on the silenced women and servants.This book should have been amazing. I mean, how do you look at that description and not want to immediately read it? Unfortunately, it's nothing but a disappointment. The prose is just... not good. It's shallow and adolescent, with a frequent reliance A retelling of the Trojan War from the perspective of Briseis (minor Trojan queen, taken as a war prize and given to Achilles as a slave, then claimed by Agamemnon), and given a radical, feminist spin by focusing on the silenced women and servants.This book should have been amazing. I mean, how do you look at that description and not want to immediately read it? Unfortunately, it's nothing but a disappointment. The prose is just... not good. It's shallow and adolescent, with a frequent reliance on poor word choices that feel like a rushed first draft (Once or twice, Tecmessa really annoyed me with well-meant but irritating advice on how to make the best of things.)(That’s the other thing I remember: the rats. Rats everywhere. You could be walking along the path between two rows of huts and suddenly the ground ahead of you would get up and walk—oh, yes, as bad as that!)(I lost myself in that work—and I found myself too. I was learning so much, from Ritsa, but also from Machaon who, once he realized I was interested and already had a little knowledge and skill, was generous with his time. I really started to think: I can do this.). I suppose none of this sounds particularly bad out of context, but two hundred pages of such middling, do-nothing prose and I was bored out of my mind.Everyone's characterization is flat and indistinguishable, which is particularly sad because The Iliad gives one such specific types to work with and yet Barker still couldn't make anyone feel memorable. As one example, Odysseus isn't remotely clever. Make him evil, sure, make him uncaring or arrogant or cruel, but what's the point of an Odysseus who isn't clever? But the thing that most annoyed me was that Barker hasn't made the story new in any way. Sure, Briseis is now the narrator, but she has no plot of her own, no relationships, no cares, no desires, no actions that depart from the original. The climax is still Patroclus's death and Achilles's grief; in fact, the book increasingly departs from Briseis's first-person narration to third-person-limited focused on Achilles (or occasionally Patroclus) until by Part Two she only gets half the chapters. How are you writing a feminist reclamation if you're using the exact same events and giving them the same emotional weight and even the same male perspective?I think Barker is vaguely aware of this problem herself, because we do get this passage near the end of the book:Looking back, it seemed to me I’d been trying to escape not just from the camp, but from Achilles’s story; and I’d failed. Because, make no mistake, this was his story—his anger, his grief, his story. I was angry, I was grieving, but somehow that didn’t matter. Here I was, again, waiting for Achilles to decide when it was time for bed, still trapped, still stuck inside his story, and yet with no real part to play in it.But for all this half-paragraph of protest, Barker's the one who chose to write the book this way. To be fair, I didn't entirely hate it. There are moments that work, like this one, a favorite of mine:Like everybody else, I’d been shaken by the sudden appearance of Priam in Achilles’s hall. I’d felt blank and at the same time abnormally attentive. I could still hear him pleading with Achilles, begging him to remember his own father—and then the silence, as he bent his head and kissed Achilles’s hands.I do what no man before me has ever done, I kiss the hands of the man who killed my son.Those words echoed round me, as I stood in the storage hut, surrounded on all sides by the wealth Achilles had plundered from burning cities. 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 brothers.But what good does exist is frequently undercut by later developments. Take this, the opening lines of the book: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 may not surprise you when I say no one, and certainly not Briseis, ever calls Achilles a butcher in the actual book. We do, however, get plenty of praise for him from Briseis's perspective, from calling him "the most beautiful man alive" to admiring descriptions of his loneliness, his skillfulness, his musical abilities, his healing powers, his tenderness for his men, etc. There's also the fact that Achilles's relationship with his mother is depicted as bizzarely incestous, which uh, I suppose Barker has finally come up with a new twist on the Iliad with that choice. I'm not sure why, though.In short: UGH. So much potential, and yet so little worthwhile accomplished. I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.
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  • Jo
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Hugh
    January 1, 1970
    I have to start with a disclaimer. My knowledge of the classics is poor, I was taught very little at school and I have never read The Iliad. I did read Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles a couple of years ago, but as far as I can tell both that and this book are selective about which parts of the original to retain, and Barker and Miller put very different spins on the story.The opening is striking: "Great Achilles. Brilliant Achilles, shining Achilles, godlike Achilles. . . How the epithets I have to start with a disclaimer. My knowledge of the classics is poor, I was taught very little at school and I have never read The Iliad. I did read Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles a couple of years ago, but as far as I can tell both that and this book are selective about which parts of the original to retain, and Barker and Miller put very different spins on the story.The opening is striking: "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'."So it is instantly clear that the perspective is not a Greek one. The narrator is Briseis, Achilles' prize and the cause of his quarrel with Agamemnon.Barker brings a modern feminine perspective to this most male of legends, and explores the world from the viewpoint of the captive slaves, though some chapters appear to have a more omniscient narrator.I am not familiar enough with the original to judge how cleverly this was done or to pick holes in it, but the story is always readable. Like Miller, Barker's modernisation does not attempt to dispense with the supernatural parts, so Gods and Goddesses retain their places in the story.
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  • Canadian
    January 1, 1970
    “Looking back, it seemed to me I’d been trying to escape not just from the camp, but from Achilles’ story . . .”“I thought: Suppose, suppose just once, once, in all these centuries, the slippery gods keep their word and Achilles is granted eternal glory in return for his death under the walls of Troy . . .? What will they make of us, the people of those unimaginably distant times? One thing I do know: they don’t want the brutal reality of conquest and slavery. They won’t want to be told about t “Looking back, it seemed to me I’d been trying to escape not just from the camp, but from Achilles’ story . . .”“I thought: Suppose, suppose just once, once, in all these centuries, the slippery gods keep their word and Achilles is granted eternal glory in return for his death under the walls of Troy . . .? What will they make of us, the people of those unimaginably distant times? One thing I do know: they don’t want the brutal reality of conquest and slavery. They won’t want to be told about the massacres of men and boys, the enslavement of women and girls. They won’t want to know we were living in a rape camp. No, they’ll go for something softer. A love story perhaps? I just hope they manage to work out who the lovers were.”In the tenth year of the Trojan War, the Greek “hero” Achilles leads an assault on the city of Lyrnessus in Asia Minor, not far from Troy. He kills the king, Mynes, and takes the queen, beautiful Briseis, as slave and concubine. She has witnessed Achilles murdering her brothers, and is now expected to submit to him in every way, including sexually. Her story, from the time of the attack and the plundering of Lyrnessus to her transfer—with scores of other enslaved women—to an encampment closer to the battlefield, is the focus of Pat Barker’s novel. The novel unfolds in three parts. Most scenes are presented in the first person from the point of view of Briseis herself. Occasional chapters, written more capably (in my opinion) in the third person and present tense, focus and provide the perspective of Achilles. A large portion of the novel is concerned with the feud that develops between Achilles, the Greeks’ finest warrior, and Agamemnon, chief commander of the Greek forces. In having taken Chryseis, the young daughter of a priest of Apollo, as his “prize” and concubine, Agamemnon has offended the god, who visits a plague upon the Greek camp—which Barker describes in lurid detail. (It begins with rats, who gorge on the waste from meals prepared from pillaged livestock. The rodents develop hemorrhagic disease, and they die in vast numbers. It’s almost impossible for humans to avoid stepping on their soft, decomposing bodies).The plague can be only lifted if Agamemnon returns Chryseis to her father. He does this, but demands and takes something in exchange: Briseis. Achilles, of course, bears a gargantuan grudge.No doubt Barker’s earlier experience writing about the Great War came in handy when depicting battle and field hospital scenes. (Where war is concerned, it’s remarkable how little had actually changed across the millennia that separate the ancient Greeks from early twentieth-century Europeans.) Gas gangrene, which Barker’s ancient medics detect by “listening” with their fingers for the characteristic crackling under the skin, is the thing most feared. By day, Briseis tends to the sick and injured men; by night she serves wine to the upper echelon of Greek warriors and later submits to use by Achilles. Unlike Barker’s treatment of male-on-male violence both on and off the battlefield, the author is generally restrained in her depiction of sexual violence. For the most part, it is suggested, rather than described in graphic detail—though Barker’s Achilles appears to have a particularly virulent strain of the Oedipus complex . (Briseis bears a remarkable physical resemblance to his sea goddess mother, who abandoned him as a child. His intimate behaviour toward her is characterized by infantile rage.) Barker provides a contrast to Achilles in the character Patroclus, Achilles’s great friend from childhood and his lover in adulthood. Patroclus is kind and consoling to Briseis, and friendship develops between the two. Going into the novel, I had only a vague sense of its subject matter—that is, I knew it was a story of the Trojan War from a woman’s, a female victim’s, perspective. Barker succeeds in conveying the experience of captive, enslaved women quite well. However, the lot of Briseis and the sections of the book that concern her pale in comparison to those about Achilles. Though a violent brute with the fatal flaw of holding a grudge, his love for Patroclus is quite movingly portrayed. The scenes that depict Achilles’ grief are particularly powerful. Having said that, I found a fair bit of the novel heavy-handed. Its themes are driven home a bit too relentlessly. There’s the feeling that the author worked very hard on this, but still didn’t quite succeed.I sometimes had trouble with Barker’s writing. Briseis’s first-person descriptions occasionally read as a little too ostentatiously literary. Dialogue, on the other hand, is sometimes marred by the inclusion of too-modern idiomatic expressions and concepts. The ancients did not, for example, use percentage, so Achilles’ observation about feeling a certain way on the battlefield “ninety-five percent of the time” was jarring to read. Phrases such as “living in a bubble” and “joined at the hip” might make the text more accessible to modern readers, but they feel inauthentic even in a modern retelling of an ancient story. At times I felt I was reading a hip graphic novel version of the Trojan War, minus the illustrations.In the end, The Silence of the Girls was an interesting but uneven work: compelling in places, yes, but maybe not in the places Barker intended.
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  • Gumble's Yard
    January 1, 1970
    Now longlisted for the Women's Prize 2019. Now it’s full of frightened old men who think their day is over (and they’re probably right) and overexcited young men who jabber till the spit flies, though it’s only stuff they’ve read in the paper. The women have gone very quiet. It’s like the Iliad, you know, when Achilles insults Agamemnon and Agamemnon says he’s got to have Achilles’ girl and Achilles goes off and sulks by the long ships and the girls they’re quarrelling over say nothing, not a wo Now longlisted for the Women's Prize 2019. Now it’s full of frightened old men who think their day is over (and they’re probably right) and overexcited young men who jabber till the spit flies, though it’s only stuff they’ve read in the paper. The women have gone very quiet. It’s like the Iliad, you know, when Achilles insults Agamemnon and Agamemnon says he’s got to have Achilles’ girl and Achilles goes off and sulks by the long ships and the girls they’re quarrelling over say nothing, not a word … I don’t suppose men ever hear that silence.” Re-read for a book group. Even first time around I came to this book relatively late – but which time it had already received excellent reviews from a number of my Goodreads friends which both detail the book and discuss some of its strengths and flaws – see in particular these reviews from Paul, Neil and Trevor. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...From my viewpoint, the concept of the book was similar in many ways to Philippa Gregory's retelling of The War of The Roses (Cousins' Wars) across a series of historical novels – featuring various female characters. One thing that unites Paul, Neil and Trevor is their unease/disappointment in the abandonment not just of the first party narration, but of Briseis female viewpoint, and its increasing substitution with a privileged third-party narrator written instead from Achilles view (i.e a more traditional male viewpoint).Gregory also has to deal with this issue of there being a limit to how much of the story a female character would have witnessed – her approach is to fill in the missing action by the heavy use of exposition - sometimes in narrative between characters and sometimes by the first (or third) person female narrator summarising their thoughts. That technique can be clumsy at times, when it works however it captures well the way rumours emerge and shift after a battle – and the fear of those waiting at home for news of those they love, and of the overall flow of the battle and how this will impact on their own lives. Importantly I think Gregory never abandons the viewpoint of her female characters as Barker does here – and while I think I can see what she is trying to do (making it clear – as the quotes in Trevor and Neil’s review pick out – that really this can never be the story of Briseis when she is held as a pawn and sex slave, her story only really beings when Achilles is dead) I think ultimately it is to the slight detriment of her aims and effectively drowns out Briseis, something Barker acknowledges: I remember how he'd held my chin in his hand, turning my head this way and that, before walking into the centre of the arena, holding up his arms and saying "Cheers, lads. She'll do"" And again, at the end [referring to Alcimus who Achilles instructs to marry Briseis so as to keep her safe after his own expected death] holding my chin, tilting my head: "He's a good man. He'll be kind to you. And he'll take care of you".”That voice, always so dominant, drowning out every other voice" PS – the irony that a group of men are choosing to criticise how a woman tells a woman’s story is not lost on me!The other area I have seen criticised in the book is the anachronisms in the story. Here I have to say the criticism was I think ill-founded. Pat Barker has been very explicit that – unlike her World War I books which feature real characters and where she is scrupulous to try and make their behaviour conform to known historical facts, in the smallest detail – here she felt free to introduce anachronisms and enjoyed the freedom to do so. In her view, the original story is a myth, and the idea of respecting historical detail in a myth - even the concept of an anachronism - simply makes no sense. And the "anachronisms" are blatant, clear from almost the first page and I think important. References to weekends or crowns or sweets are rather overshadowed in my view by the fact that the siege of Troy is blatantly lifted straight from the WWI Western Front, or Achilles and his fellow elite officers singing a real 20th/21st century rugby song at dinner. And I thought it was clear what Barker was doing here – drawing a line from male dominated violence and casual disregard for women of the myth, through into the gung-ho attitudes to war of the officer class at the start of WWI (many in their heads inspired by classical battles) and further into the casual aggression and misogyny of many men today, all of it taking place against the silence of the girls.The quote with which I start my review is from Pat Barker's Life Class set in 1914 London - a quote which appears to presage this book albeit a link of which Barker herself has said she was not consciously aware until it was drawn to her attention by a reader.Recommended.
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  • Eric Anderson
    January 1, 1970
    It’s been frequently observed how retellings of Greek myths have dominated literary fiction lately - from Madeline Miller “Circe” to Colm Toibin’s “House of Names” to modern retakes like “Home Fire” and “Everything Under”. You’d think with this prolific focus on the same characters and situations it’d come to feel repetitive, but I’m finding the more retellings I read the more engaged I am. It was particularly interesting coming to “The Silence of the Girls” having read “The Song of Achilles” an It’s been frequently observed how retellings of Greek myths have dominated literary fiction lately - from Madeline Miller “Circe” to Colm Toibin’s “House of Names” to modern retakes like “Home Fire” and “Everything Under”. You’d think with this prolific focus on the same characters and situations it’d come to feel repetitive, but I’m finding the more retellings I read the more engaged I am. It was particularly interesting coming to “The Silence of the Girls” having read “The Song of Achilles” and “House of Names” since they take different perspectives on the same cast. Pat Barker’s narrator is Briseis, a queen of Lyrnessus who is captured when Achilles attacks her city and kills her family. She becomes a trophy lover and a point of contention between Achilles and Agamemnon amidst their squabbling in the Trojan War. This status allows her unique access to some of the most intimate moments leading to the downfall of Troy, but she incisively recounts how painfully dehumanizing these men treat her and how her “privileged” status is in reality no more than that of a slave. It’s a refreshing reassessment of the positions of many characters associated with these tales of war who’ve traditionally been treated as peripheral and the novel’s vividly engaging storytelling kept me gripped. Read my full review of The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker on LonesomeReader
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  • Book of the Month
    January 1, 1970
    Why I love itby Taylor Jenkins ReidI'm a sucker for a good retelling, especially if it's about the Ancient Greeks. So I admit that I'm the exact right audience for Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls. And yet, it still exceeded my expectations.The Silence of the Girls recounts the story of The Iliad as seen through the eyes of Briseis, a Trojan queen taken as a slave by Achilles as his reward for the sack of Lyrnessus. As the years-long battle wages on, Briseis tries to make sense of her new l Why I love itby Taylor Jenkins ReidI'm a sucker for a good retelling, especially if it's about the Ancient Greeks. So I admit that I'm the exact right audience for Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls. And yet, it still exceeded my expectations.The Silence of the Girls recounts the story of The Iliad as seen through the eyes of Briseis, a Trojan queen taken as a slave by Achilles as his reward for the sack of Lyrnessus. As the years-long battle wages on, Briseis tries to make sense of her new life in the encampments. She bonds with the other women held captive, finds something resembling friendship with Achilles's companion, Patroclus, and soon becomes a pawn between Achilles and King Agamemnon. I knew how it would all shake out from the opening page, but I never understood the story and characters like this.The story of the Trojan War is often narrated with the presumption that the clashing of men's egos and swords is of the highest honor and import. What I love most about this novel is that Pat Barker strips the story of all that glamorization. There are no true "heroes" here. Instead, we are focused on the humanity of the women caught in the cross fire. Briseis may still be tied up in Achilles's story, but she is no longer silent.Read more at: https://www.bookofthemonth.com/the-si...
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  • Donna
    January 1, 1970
    **Warning—this review also contains minor spoilers for the book The Song of Achilles.**While reading The Song of Achilles a few months ago, I was intrigued by a supporting, though unforgettable character in that book named Briseis who tugged at my heartstrings throughout the story. In mythological tales about the Trojan War, she was princess of Lymessus, a Trojan city destroyed by the Greeks in an all out assault led by Achilles. When only 19, Briseis was captured and given to Achilles as one of **Warning—this review also contains minor spoilers for the book The Song of Achilles.**While reading The Song of Achilles a few months ago, I was intrigued by a supporting, though unforgettable character in that book named Briseis who tugged at my heartstrings throughout the story. In mythological tales about the Trojan War, she was princess of Lymessus, a Trojan city destroyed by the Greeks in an all out assault led by Achilles. When only 19, Briseis was captured and given to Achilles as one of his spoils of war, well aware she was expected to serve him in all ways possible, even though she was royalty and he had slaughtered her entire family and her husband. And as if that weren’t bad enough, sometime later, she became the object of a dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon, the commander of the Greek army. This led to further mistreatment of Briseis, and led to Achilles feeling dishonored and refusing to fight in the war until he was appeased. As portrayed in Song of Achilles, Briseis was a proud, intelligent, and compassionate woman who drew on her inner strength to survive not only physically, but emotionally. Her relationship with Achilles was tepid and vastly different than portrayed in this book, and she even forged a close friendship of sorts with Achilles’ longtime friend and lover, Patroclus. I found her completely intriguing. Because of this, I wanted to know more about her. So when I saw that this book was told from Briseis’ perspective, and it would give a woman’s eye view of the war and of life during those times, I jumped at the chance to read it. But what a disappointment this book was compared to The Song of Achilles. This book had none of the beautiful writing and in depth character studies of that book. Instead, the writing in this book was mostly flat, same as the characters, not allowing me care about them. It was mostly a case of all tell, no show. The intense relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was mostly muted here, and the friendship between Briseis and Patroclus in this book was close in name only, compared to Song of Achilles, which actually showed what that friendship consisted of in great detail. And as for this story being told from a female perspective to supposedly put a different spin on it, what that meant in this book was detailing all the drudgery of cooking, cleaning, and servicing the men in the camp between their bouts of fighting and raping, as told by a bitter and disgruntled Briseis. Maybe this was more realistic than the more idealized tale told in Miller’s book, but It was tedious and it barely touched on anything remotely feminist in nature. It was not an empowered or enlightened view, but a resigned and helpless one, a mainly passive one, at that, even more so than in Miller’s book. Plus, beginning in part two, the story started alternating between Briseis’ first person viewpoint and that of Achilles, told in third person. What a strange choice for a book that was supposed to tell things from a woman’s viewpoint, except to make the point that the women would not be heard over what the men had to say, after all. In short, this book added nothing new to what I already knew of this time and place which I admit is limited as I’ve never read The Iliad which this story is based on. Plus, for some strange reason, the author chose to use modern language with grossly anachronistic idioms and turns of phrase that were at odds with the very carefully detailed description of that ancient world from a physical standpoint. It was obvious the author did much research to make that world feel authentic. So why would she make everyone sound like modern day people using words like hangover, and have them say things like “We-ell” and “No-oo” as if they’re being snarky? So basically, everything I enjoyed about The Song of Achilles was missing from this book, and it even contradicted some of the things I liked best about that book. So I recommend that you skip this book and read The Song of Achilles instead for something truly memorable on this subject, and for a version of this story that honors Briseis much more than what you’ll get in this book.
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  • Neil
    January 1, 1970
    This was a re-read and I found the book much stronger on a second time through. The first time through, I gave it four stars but have since thought that maybe that was generous. Re-reading it has confirmed it as 4 stars for me despite some doubts I may have been having.Two topics that often seem to be discussed in relationship to this book are firstly its links to the First World War (and the author's other books on this) and secondly its feminist re-working of the story.Several people have poin This was a re-read and I found the book much stronger on a second time through. The first time through, I gave it four stars but have since thought that maybe that was generous. Re-reading it has confirmed it as 4 stars for me despite some doubts I may have been having.Two topics that often seem to be discussed in relationship to this book are firstly its links to the First World War (and the author's other books on this) and secondly its feminist re-working of the story.Several people have pointed out the anachronisms in the novel (many more than I mention in may original review below including hospital tents, cupboards etc.), but I can now see that these are deliberate, whereas previously I saw them as minor annoyances that I could over look. I think I now see it as clearly part of what they author was attempting to do. These (related) articles were interesting to read as I did some basic research around the links between The Iliad and WWI:https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...https://www.theguardian.com/culture/c...In my first reading, I wasn't sure about how the "feminist re-telling" worked, but this seemed a lot stronger to me on my re-read. In particular, I noticed the way Barker holds the worlds of men and women so separate but Briseis seems somehow to bridge that gap (in particular, I noted the way she learns doctoring from Machaon and then steps into the - male - role of doctor herself and I noted how Achilles' attitude to her changed as the book progressed to the extent that he begins to talk to her like he would to a man and to share his food with her as he might with other men).I am still not sure about the parts of the book that move to a third person narrator. In particular, the sections that include Briseis but are not narrated by her feel very odd after so many chapters that she relates in the first person. There are several passages that include words in italics that suggest someone is interviewing Briseis after all the events of the book and recording her replies. And maybe this third person omniscient narrator is this this interviewer, but that is never made explicit.---------------ORIGINAL REVIEW---------------In Homer’s Iliad, women do not speak very often, except maybe for the goddesses, and Briseis, the central character of Barker’s novel, has no words at all."'Silence becomes a woman.' Every woman I’ve ever known was brought up on that saying."Here Barker retells the story but from Briseis’ perspective, giving Briseis a voice but also allowing a view into the lives of other women in the story. What we get is a new view of a well-known story that focuses on the damage war does to those left behind. In the Iliad, women are seen as trophies, taken when a battle is won and the men have been killed and given as rewards or traded when needs be"And I brought up the rear, along with the seven girls from Lesbos, and all the other things."What we see is women surviving slavery whilst at the same time witnessing or waiting to hear of the death of their loved ones - husbands, bothers, sons.Other reviewers have pointed out that there are some anachronisms in Barker’s storytelling. She makes reference to weekend markets in a time before the weekend was invented. She talks of “half a crown” which meant nothing in that time and place. But that doesn’t necessarily take away from the emotion that she is able to communicate. From the blurb and from the opening chapters, you can be forgiven for thinking this is simply going to be Briseis’ story. But Barker soon starts to take breaks from the first person narration to skip to events that Briseis could not have seen told by a third person narrator. A large part of the story becomes an interpretation of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus that concentrates on the “bromance” and potential sexual side of that relationship. And there are significant passages about Achilles’ relationship with his mother. It has to be said that the Achilles presented in Barker’s book is weaker and far more vulnerable that the traditional view and she also seems to have no real interested in the idea of his invulnerability (his death here is not, well, probably not, by a poisoned arrow in the heel). So, if you pick this up thinking it is Briseis’ story and nothing else, you have some surprises coming.This mixing of viewpoints is both a weakness and a strength of the novel. Part of me wishes the narrative had stayed with Briseis all the time and that other events had been included as Briseis learned about them and reacted to them. But, at the same time, the portrayal of Achilles and two of his most important relationships is a fascinating parallel story.This book has been billed as a “feminist Iliad” and I can see where that comes from. Briseis (and other women in the story) struggle to escape from male-dominated stories:"Looking back, it seemed to me I’d been trying to escape not just from the camp, but from Achilles’ story; and I’d failed. Because, make no mistake, this was his story - his anger, his grief, his story. I was angry, I was grieving, but somehow that didn’t matter. Here I was again, waiting for Achilles to decide when it was time for bed, still trapped, still stuck inside his story, and yet with no part to play in it."And as we end (I can say this as you can’t really spoil a story this old), Achilles has died and Briseis heads to a new life:"Once, not so long ago, I tried to walk out of Achilles’ story - and failed. Now my own story begins."But the “feminist Iliad” is an interesting topic. It’s phrase pulled from a review in The Guardian, but other reviewers have commented that this is not a feminist rewrite: Briseis knows and accepts her lesser role in her society. I’m thinking this through because I didn’t think of it as a feminist re-write as I read it, but thinking back over the book and reading other reviews makes me wonder.Overall, a book that is far more complex than I imagined it would be from the blurb, with more exploration of Achilles than I expected and with food for thought at the end.My thanks to Penguin Books (UK) for a review copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Jennifer
    January 1, 1970
    In The Silence of the Girls, author Pat Barker takes an important but mainly silent character from Homer's Iliad and gives her voice. She is Achilles' war prize: Briseis, an involuntary sex slave. Through Briseis' point of view, Barker highlights hard truths about the characters in this well-known piece of literature. It's a question about heroes and villains, and an exploration of how women have been treated as commodities all the way back to an imagined history. Barker removes the glory of men In The Silence of the Girls, author Pat Barker takes an important but mainly silent character from Homer's Iliad and gives her voice. She is Achilles' war prize: Briseis, an involuntary sex slave. Through Briseis' point of view, Barker highlights hard truths about the characters in this well-known piece of literature. It's a question about heroes and villains, and an exploration of how women have been treated as commodities all the way back to an imagined history. Barker removes the glory of men from the Trojan War and replaces it with “the brutal reality of conquest and slavery”. “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.” This is not a retelling per se, but rather an added perspective to a familiar story. Some view it as a simple but honest exploration of Achilles and Briseis' relationship in the context of war while others view it as a tribute to the strength of women. Either way, the female voice is heard. Briseis breaks her silence and comes forward. Check it out.My favorite quote:“...in my experience men are curiously blind to aggression in women. They're the warriors, with their helmets and armour, their swords and spears, and they don't seem to see our battles – or they prefer not to. Perhaps if they realized we're not the gentle creatures they take us for their own peace of mind would be disturbed?”
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  • Jessica Woodbury
    January 1, 1970
    Telling the story of the Iliad through the eyes of Briseis is a really good idea, there's so much potential to present the familiar through a drastically different lens. As Barker (through Briseis) notes, there is a story of men and glory presented to the world, but the story that isn't told is one of rape and slavery. Ultimately, though, I didn't feel like The Silence of the Girls did enough to change the story. At the end of the day, this book is the story of Achilles just from a different poi Telling the story of the Iliad through the eyes of Briseis is a really good idea, there's so much potential to present the familiar through a drastically different lens. As Barker (through Briseis) notes, there is a story of men and glory presented to the world, but the story that isn't told is one of rape and slavery. Ultimately, though, I didn't feel like The Silence of the Girls did enough to change the story. At the end of the day, this book is the story of Achilles just from a different point of view. I felt like Barker could have done so much more, could have turned Achilles, Patroclus, Agamemnon, and the rest into side players. Instead, Briseis gives us a shift in perspective but no real shift in the story. In fact, she can't even remain the first person protagonist, the book starts to present a 3rd person perspective for Achilles about halfway through. I also detracted a few mental points because for a book that's about bringing a broader point of view to a traditional story, Barker dances around homoeroticism between Achilles and Patroclus without ever really laying out a deeper romantic or sexual relationship between them, which feels a little odd given all the other ways she wants to open up the story.For me, it also suffered by comparison. I read The Song of Achilles just a month ago, which got me very excited to read this, but then Miller's book just kept returning to my mind while I read this. Miller's book does suffer from some of the same sins Barker is so determined to point out here: the rape and slavery of women so easily erased and overlooked. That we look at these men and do not fully judge them for their crimes because the worst of their crimes are not even discussed. But I felt like Miller's book had a stronger point of view and a stronger visceral and emotional connection to its story. I wanted that same kind of voice and emotion here, and there are certainly good reasons for why they shouldn't be compared (the ongoing traumas Briseis suffers make her a very different kind of narrator no matter what) but at the very least I'd recommend not reading the two close together.
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  • Katie Long
    January 1, 1970
    I loved this reimagining of the Iliad from Briseis’s perspective. But that’s just it, I loved it when we were getting Briseis’s perspective. Too often Barker shifts away from her, to an omniscient third person narration of events that she isn’t present for, which pulled me away from the intimacy of her story.
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