Book Review: The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker, 2018

Briseis, with some additions by Achilles, tells the story of the fall of Troy.  This retelling, from the female and minor character point of view, is in the fashion of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Firebrand, about Cassandra, and Ursula LeGuin’s Lavinia, although the language here is much stronger and violent.  Briseis states Barker’s main point on the very last page:

What will they make of us, the people of those unimaginably distant times?  One thing I do know: they won’t want the brutal reality of conquest and slavery.  They won’t want to be told about the massacres of men and boys, the enslavement of women and girls.  They won’t want to know we were living in a rape camp. No, they’ll go for something altogether softer.  A love story, perhaps? I just hope they manage to work out who the lovers were.

Indeed, this is a book that could only be written in our time, when the knowledge of what happens to the conquered, whether in Africa, the Middle East or elsewhere, is brought to light.  In unflinching prose Barker makes us feel the fear and loss of “me-ness” that comes with being a slave, being seen as “it.” The casual cruelty is just part of the story.

My only objection to the book is when Achilles becomes the focus and we learn about his inner workings – his relationship with his mother, his feelings for Patroclus – too much pop-psychology here.  Briseis is a very strong character, who manages to survive Achilles, Agamemnon, the murders of her family in Lyrnessa, and at the end, reclaim herself:

Once, not so long ago, I tried to walk out of Achilles’ story – and failed.  Now, my own story can begin.

I definitely recommend this books for adults – it will hold your interest and make you look at Agamemnon in a whole new light.

Reviewed by Ruth Breindel

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