The Silence of the Girls
Author Pat Barker
Publisher Doubleday Books | 2018
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. (from Goodreads)
This review is spoiler-freeeee! 🙂 WELL- if you’re not familiar with The Iliad, then yeah… there’s spoilers.
I was seeing and hearing about this book everywhere and after getting a beautiful edition of it as a gift (thanks mom!), I finally read it. You know me, I LOVE anything and everything Greek mythology, so I was excited to get started on this one.
“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.”
I felt the first part that was mainly narrated by Briseis was good. It was a bit unsettling to see Achilles painted in such a weird, dark light (even though I KNOW he did some horrible shit, I still have a soft spot for him), but it was interesting to see the dynamic behind the walls of Troy and between the Trojan women in the Greek camps. Once part two hit, and I noticed that Achilles was gettin’ in on the narrating action, I was like YESSSS because I’ve never gotten his POV before and it was exciting. But then… it started getting slow. I’m not sure if it’s because I felt like I read this story already (thanks to the goddess that is Madeline Miller), but it just started to draaaaag and I was getting frustrated (Achilles, how dare your narration betray me so).
“How do you separate a tiger’s beauty from its ferocity? Or a cheetah’s elegance from the speed of its attack? Achilles was like that– the beauty and the terror were two sides of a single coin.”
Once Patroclus died and the relationship (I don’t like calling it that, but I don’t know which word best describes it) between Achilles and Briseis changed, I started getting invested again. Achilles’ narrations turned enjoyable and new. I felt like I was seeing a completely new aspect of the story and I really liked it. The writing was really great throughout (though I was NOT a fan of Odysseus’ characterization in this) and I’m really happy I got around to reading this! In closing, I still love Achilles & Patroclus, I love Briseis aaaaaand Agamemnon is still a BITCH.
Trigger warnings: rape, graphic murder, child death, animal death, slavery, suicide, cheating, PTSD, abuse