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Pat Barker | The Silence of the Girls




Blurb:

Here is the story of the Iliad as we’ve never heard it before: in the words of Briseis, Trojan queen and captive of Achilles. Given only a few words in Homer’s epic and largely erased by history, she is nonetheless a pivotal figure in the Trojan War. In these pages she comes fully to life: wry, watchful, forging connections among her fellow female prisoners even as she is caught between Greece’s two most powerful warriors. Her story pulls back the veil on the thousands of women who lived behind the scenes of the Greek army camp—concubines, nurses, prostitutes, the women who lay out the dead—as gods and mortals spar, and as a legendary war hurtles toward its inevitable conclusion. Brilliantly written, filled with moments of terror and beauty, The Silence of the Girls gives voice to an extraordinary woman—and makes an ancient story new again.

A Washington Post Notable Book

One of the Best Books of the Year: NPR, The Economist, Financial Times 

Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award 

Finalist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 

Review:

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.”
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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.

About the Author:

Pat Barker was born in Yorkshire and began her literary career in her forties when she took a short writing course taught by Angela Carter. Encouraged by Carter to continue writing and exploring the lives of working-class women, she sent her fiction out to publishers. Thirty-five years later, she has published sixteen novels, including her masterful Regeneration Trilogy, been made a CBE for services to literature, and won awards including the Guardian Fiction Prize and the UK's highest literary honour, the Booker Prize.

Her last novel, The Silence of the Girls, began the story of Briseis, the forgotten woman at the heart of one of the most famous war stories ever told. It was shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction and the Gordon Burn Prize and won an Independent Bookshop Award 2019. The Women of Troy continues that story. Pat Barker lives in Durham.


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