The Silence of the Girls ~ by Pat Barker

Okay,  fellow readers, this book is so good I was listening along, totally fascinated, but feeling like I wasn’t quite getting everything.  So at about 1/3 through,  I downloaded the Kindle version and started over while reading along.   It’s good but it’s not THAT good.  I liked it but probably not THAT much.   It’s intense – yes, it’s intense.

From Penguin Random House:

“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.”


The Silence of the Girls
by Pat Barker
2018 / 304 pages
read by Kristie Atherton – 10h 44m
rating:  9 /  historical fiction 


This is Briseis’ side of the story from the time the Greek warrior Achilles and his men conquered her city of Lyrnessus, killing the men, including her father,  husband and brothers,  and taking the women as slaves and hostages.

“A slave isn’t a person who’s being treated as a thing. A slave is a thing, as much in her own estimation as in anybody else’s.”  page 32

So Brisius goes to Achilles as his slave.   She personally witnessed his slaughter of her family and now she is forced to sleep with him.  She is not happy,  but tries to make her peace in the midst of war.  It gets quite raw and real and emotionally intense.

One thing is that I’m really not all that familiar with the background of Achilles in Homer’s“The Iliad,” although I did read it eons ago.  And I read Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles (links to my review on this site) which was okay.

Why is it these old classical tales continue to fascinate us and engage our imaginations?  Updated spin-offs of the classics abound and I’ve really enjoyed several.

It’s divided into three equal Parts with the first part being mainly about Briseis, a conquered king’s daughter, narrating from her perspective as Achilles’ concubine by virtue of spoils of war.   She is not happy.

The tale goes on and we meet Achilles through a 3rd person narrator,  his long-term companion Patrolus, neither of them is happy.   The other women are featured a bit as they go through the adventures of war and slavery and concubinage and children, followed by more war,  preparing for war and mourning the dead while dealing with new and old relationships plus a few gods or immortals.

There are huge elements of feminism – it’s a main theme, like when Briseis says:

“Oh yes  I was to blame for the wars in the same way a bone is to blame for a fight between two dogs.”

I’ve appreciated Pat Barker’s earlier novels so yes,  I LIKED IT A LOT, almost loved it,  even though it’s not quite as compelling as Circe by Madeleine Miller which really wow’d me.    It’s a solid story,  wonderfully rendered,  interesting and, with a twist of the plot,  turns surprisingly good.

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5 Responses to The Silence of the Girls ~ by Pat Barker

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    Yup, I’ve bought this too, it sounds good.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Carmen says:

    Good review, Becky. Two other bloggers I follow raved about this one, which put it on my radar. I’ll see what I can do about it. I like this recent trend in literature of retelling Greek myths. They are fascinating and there’s plenty of characters to mine. Hopefully next year I’ll be reading The Song of Achilles and Mary Renault’s two books on Theseus, namely The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea.


  3. Thank you, Carmen. I’m also curious about the Renault books. The classical spin-off I’ve enjoyed most so far is Circe by Madeline Miller.


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