Updated: Sep 5, 2020
The Silence of the Girls- Pat Barker
If you don’t already know, i’m a longtime fan of ancient epic Greek stories and The Silence of the Girls was right up my alley. I was given this book as a gift from one of my awesome followers of my blog, Ricardo. I’ve been asking him for a recommendation for ages and he did not disappoint!
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, is a historical re-telling of the events from the famous story of Homer’s Iliad, but with a twist. It is told from the point of view of Briseis, who was King Mynes’s wife. For some of you who may be unfamiliar with the story of Iliad, let me give you the 411 right quick.
Iliad is an ancient Greek poem written by Homer. Now, Homer is kind of a legend in the ancient Greek era. He was also the writer of the Odyssey poem, which together, are the two well known poems of ancient Greek literature. The Iliad, is set during the Trojan war, a huge 10 year siege of the city of Troy, by a group of Greek Kingdoms. Basically a bunch of Greek kings and warriors come together to fight against the Trojans. The Iliad focuses on a quarrel or argument, if you will, between the unstoppable demigod warrior Achilles and the powerful King Agamemnon. The Iliad also mentions how the war came to build up, the gathering of the warriors for the siege, and the cause of the war, which is where 'Helen of Troy’, also known as 'Helen of Sparta' comes in. The 10 year war pretty much happened because of Helen. A woman. Crazy eh? Then the poem delves into the prophesied future and Achilles’ imminent death and the fall of Troy. It’s a pretty epic story.
Back to the plot: The Song of Achilles is told through the eyes of Briseis, who I mentioned was the wife to the Greek king Mynes. Briseis was minding her own business waiting to see how this war would end, when without warning, Achilles, the demigod warrior leading the Greeks, seized Briseis’ Kingdom which was close to Troy. Achilles and his men kill all the men, her husband and brothers, and take all the women as their prisoners. Briseis ends up being Achilles’ prize for battle, and quickly has to adjust and survive as his new slave as one of the endless many women who were captured in the Greek army. She goes from being a queen to a slave in no time. Agamemnon, who is a very powerful king and leader, demands Briseis for himself, poor Briseis is now caught in between these very powerful men and their quarrel. Achilles refuses to fight in protest of Agamemnon’s request, and the Greeks begin to very quickly lose to the Trojans. The story goes on from there. I don’t want to be a spoiler!
We experience this turbulent war through her eyes. She gives us an in depth behind the scenes look of life in the camp as a woman. Thousands of women are used as slaves, nurses and prostitutes, they lay out the dead and basically do all the jobs the men do not want to do. It’s pretty horrific. The Silence of the Girls gives women a voice. It definitely wasn’t an easy read in the slightest, it was actually brutal, intense and desolate. Especially when it came to describing the scenes during battle. Gee-whiz!
“Deucalion. A spear thrust, slicing through the sinews at his elbow. Sword arm dangling useless by his side, he waited for death. Achilles swung his sword, Deucalion’s head and helmet flew off together and fluid oozed out of the severed backbone as his body lay spread-eagled in the dirt.”
Even though this story is about the girls in these camps, it mostly focused on Achilles and his complex character and personality. Yes, he is a demigod and an intense warrior, but I felt at times it focused too much on him. The story was also told from his perspective later in the book which I found odd. That being said, it was told very eloquently which I appreciate. The point that I think the author was trying to make was that women were truly invisible/silenced, this story is being told through Achilles story, he is the central character. Women were mostly seen as sex objects and queens in Greek Mythology, but no one ever tells the story of what happens to all these vulnerable women when their city is under siege. They all get raped. That’s literally what happens. It’s disgusting. Even when a man has all the power and respect from their peers they still have to take it one step further and rape and abuse these poor women.
All in all, I really enjoy reading this book immensely. It’s a great read, action packed, gripping and is told through a woman’s eyes, which frankly never existed in the ancient stories of Greece. This story definitely needed to be told and I appreciate that Pat Barker rose to the challenge and wrote this excellent telling of Homer’s Iliad. I have to say, if you were thinking of reading this book, I highly recommend to first read Homer’s Iliad, or The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. It will completely enhance this book for you to know the true backstory of the war of Troy. I completely adored The Song of Achilles. Hands down one of the best books I read this year. Funny thing is, I actually loved Achilles before reading this book, but after reading The Silence of the Girls, I was like whoa, Achilles is kind of a douche! Haha It totally changes your perspective a little from the women’s point of view. I’ve yet to read Circe by Madeline Miller, but I have heard rave reviews of the book and is definitely on my to-read list. I’m sure you will like this book if you love all the epic ancient Greek stories. This is defo worth a read!
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