Review: Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Updated: Nov 3, 2019
I was given this book by a friend of mine who has studied classics and told me I’d learn a new perspective on one of the classic Greek stories. Being honest, I hadn’t really thought about the stories of Achilles, Agamemnon, Hector and King Priam for a long time, but the names did spark recognition in my head. But the reason I had placed these stories in the back of my mind was because I didn’t really connect with them. They were stories about men who started wars about whose woman was whose and narratives were created around their bravery and leadership, which I naturally found hard to identify with.
That’s where this book comes into it. Silence of the Girls follows the story of Briseis, a royal in Lyrnessus, who becomes a slave to Achilles. She is the narrator for the majority of the book and within minutes of opening it you’ll see that the story you’re about to read is the polar opposite of the one you were taught at school.
From the very beginning you’ll see that this story is one which shows the true cost of these epic tales on the women involved. The blurb of this book describes Briseis as a footnote in the original story, but in this version she certainly isn’t. From the get go, you get a brutal retelling of the siege of Lyrnessus, which at times were even a bit too much for me in their candidness. But it really does urge you, the reader, to question if the well known narratives and characters you’ve been taught to admire are really worthy of adoration, and it asks you pick apart whether you’ve actually been given the correct story.
It’s a popular trope right now. You could even say that to some extent it’s similar to the recent film Joker, as they both give an authentic backstory to a character we recognise but have not heard from before. But this is different, because it has been written to specifically give the women, who are so overlooked in history and great fiction, a voice.
It’s not often in epic tales that you get to hear of the actual humanity. In fact, the goings on of the battlefield pass by without much mention in the middle section of the book. Instead, we hear about how the women cope with being slaves of the Greeks, raising Trojan children which forces them to grow affection for their captors and the internal struggle between survival and their rage.
By the end of the book Pat Barker has certainly unsilenced these girls.
Read this if: You want a different perspective on a well-known story or looking for something a bit different.
Favourite bit: The way these women were given voices in stories that they were mainly silent in the first time around.
Any parts I didn’t like? Some parts were very brutal to read and the plot isn’t fast paced.
Stars out of 5: 3.5 stars