Monday, October 1, 2018

Review: The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker 
Doubleday, 2018
Hardcover. 304 pages.

About The Silence of the Girls:
"The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, who continue to wage bloody war over a stolen woman—Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman watches and waits for the war's outcome: Briseis. 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 cooly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position to observe the two men driving the Greek forces 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."

"Oh, these fierce young women."

The Silence of the Girls is a powerful, moving story about fates of Briseis and other Trojan women during and after the Trojan War. This book has a strong, gripping start that made me excited to read it, but unfortunately the latter half seemed to lose its steam and instead left me wanting for more.

Briseis acts as our narrator for a majority of the book, thought there are a chapters interspersed infrequently (moreso in the latter half) that are told from a third person perspective and focused more on Achilles. Briseis is an admirable character and I was glad to be able to follow her experience as Achille's 'prize.' It was interesting to watch as she learned how to navigate her new circumstances and handle her feelings towards her captors and the other Trojan women with her. There was a sense of camaraderie among the women, but there was just a big a sense of survival that seemed to separate them at times and made life as slaves even more lonesome. Briseis' anger is also evident throughout all parts of her narration, however, and it is infectious in making the reader angry for her and her people as well, though I appreciated seeing Briseis struggle with her feelings towards her captors at times--it wasn't always black and white.

There were a lot of themes explored in this book that I appreciated immensely, the main ones, of course, relating to how poorly women were treated and how they were simply viewed as an object or prize to be won, rather than viewed as a person themselves. There is also a strong theme of survival present throughout, in which the women must really look out for themselves, both mentally and physically, as they had to adapt to their new positions. Pride and friendship are also big themes that show in various places, not only among the women but also between Patroclus, Achilles, Agamemnon, and other figures in the story.

I also thought that Barker did a great job of creating an authentic Ancient Greek and war camp setting that really relayed the experience of the Trojan War, or rather, any war that took place in ancient times. There was a constant sense of frustration, distaste, both of which even lent themselves to the constant 'male' desire to simple conquer, win, and reap prizes. She did wonderful work of showcasing Greek customs and rituals, from meal-serving etiquette to sacrificial customs to battle and so much more--this was a component that I felt Barker executed excellently.

There were a lot of things that I felt this book was lacking. For one, I was under the impression from the synopsis and other advertisements that this book would focus on Briseis and the other Trojan women, and although it did technically do this, Briseis and Achilles really seemed to be our main focus. The other Trojan women were mentioned, but it was always rather brief. The end of the book did bring up more discussion of the other women, however, that I appreciated, but I do wish there had been more throughout the story. Another thing I found lacking was any real connections to any characters. I felt invested in Briseis and Achilles' storylines, but there was also a bit of a boundary that kept me from really engaging with them and wanting to know more about their stories. Patroclus and Iphis were probably the most interesting out of the bunch, but they were not quite the main focus of the story.

Another minor quibble I have that isn't a huge deal and won't affect my rating--but that was still a minor annoyance and I know may bother others--was the way in which the characters talked. I understand that authors aren't going to choose to write in a style of speech that is one hundred percent authentic, but some of the phrases, words used, or style of speech were simply too casual and modern and completely pulled me out of the Ancient Greek setting.

I'm not entirely sure how to rate this book. The story was interesting and the first half of the book was great, but after some of the larger events took place, I simply started losing interest. I was suddenly bored and uninterested in what was happening and was almost wishing for the story to end. I've read a lot of historical fiction set in Ancient Greece or meant to retell Greek mythology stories and I've found that they are largely hit or miss, and most of them end up missing the mark. I wish I could give The Silence of the Girls a higher rating, but for now I am settling on 3.75 stars. This may change, but for now I feel that I was just too bored near the end to bump this up to a full four stars.

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

*I received a copy of The Silence of the Girls courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the book.*

You might also like:
Ithaca by Patrick Dillon 
For the Most Beautiful by Emily Hauser 
Helen of Troy by Margaret George


  1. Oh!! This sounds awesome!!! Great review!

  2. I've read quite a range of reviews of this book, I probably won't read it myself, but glad you enjoyed at least parts of it.

    1. Yeah, it was very off and on so I'm just not sure how to come away thinking about it.

  3. Hmm, it's interesting to hear how the author chose to make the dialogue more modern and casual. That would pull me out of the book, too. I have this one on my TBR, I'll keep your review in mind!

    1. It's not constant, but there were far too many times when it popped up, it was certainly odd. I really hope you end up enjoying it, though! :)