The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

July 29, 2021

How are the old legends always told? With the eyes of men. Through male authors we have read about the glory and strength of Odysseus, Achilles, Perseus and so on – but where are the women? The wives, daughters, slaves and mistresses are only mentioned when a man needs a warm bed, a meal, a sacrifice or a bargain. With this book, Pat Barker rebels and put the strong women in the forefront. We follow them through pain and heartbreak as they try to survive in a world where men are seen as glorious warriors. Women are merely expected to serve them unconditionally.

What a masterpiece! Let me start by saying, this is NOT an easy read. There is no sugar coating the awful ways women are treated in the battle camps after being enslaved. Through most of the book we follow the POV of Briseis – a noble lady gifted to Achilles as a slave after he slays her family. Briseis is determined to be brave and survive her awful fate. However, now and then she cracks and repeatedly walks out into the ocean – contemplating never to resurface.

Achilles is a brutal warrior of few words who barely notice Briseis’ existence. Until one night, when Briseis returns from the ocean smelling like the sea. A strange attachment forms between Briseis and Achilles but make no mistake, this is far from a romance. Like all the other enslaved women in the camp, Briseis must stay quiet and endure anything she is told to do. However, even in this hell there is time for gossip, comfort and healing when the men are off fighting. Understandably, the women secretly wish for Troy to kill and humiliate their captors.

Pat Barker’s writing style is perfect for this type of story. It’s simple but stays true to the ancient atmosphere with beautiful descriptions and an emphasis on the meaning of daily rituals. This style would probably be tiresome in a longer book. With just under 300 pages though, The Silence of the Girls never gets boring. The new female perspective on the famous legend also makes it feel new and refreshing.

Since it’s a short book and you most likely know the story of Troy already, I won’t spill more plot details. We meet many famous characters such as Helen, Odysseus and Agamemnon and learn how they have all crossed paths. If you are a fan of Greek mythology, I’m sure you will enjoy this book. If you are also a woman, this is a must read for sure.

I don’t say this lightly. The Silence of the Girls is one of the best books I have read in 2021. If not THE best. It definitely sparked a desire for more Greek mythology with a female perspective. Fortunately, Pat Barker is continuing this series in the second instalment. The Women of Troy, takes place after the fall of Troy. I believe the release date is set for August 24th and I cannot wait to return!

Page count: 291
Goodreads rating: 3.9/5


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