Friday Reads: The Silence of the Girls

This weekend, I’m reading another book on the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist: The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. This is a retelling of The Illiad, told from the perspective of Briseis, one of the women who is forced into slavery during the Trojan War.

 

Keep scrolling for this week’s Book Beginnings and The Friday 56

But first, here’s the Goodread’s synopsis for the novel:

‘I heard him before I saw him: his battle cry ringing round the walls…’

When her city falls to the Greeks, Briseis’s old life is shattered. She goes from queen to captive, from free woman to slave, awarded to the godlike warrior Achilles as a prize of battle. She’s not alone. On the same day, and on many others in the course of a long, bitter war, innumerable women have been wrested from their homes and flung to the fighters.

As told in The Iliad, the Trojan War was a quarrel between men. But what of the women in this story, silenced by their fates? What words did the speak when alone with each other, in the laundry, at the loom, when laying out the dead?

In this magnificent novel of the Trojan War, Pat Barker summons the voices of Briseis and her fellow women to tell this mythic story anew, foregrounding their experiences against the backdrop of savage battle between men. One of the contemporary writers on war and its collateral damage, here Pat Barker reimagines the most famous of all wars in literature, charting one woman’s journey throught it, as she struggles to free herself and to become the author of her own story.

 

 

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Book Beginnings is a bookish meme hosted by Rose City Reader that asks you to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you’re reading, along with your initial thoughts/impressions.

 

Great Achilles. Brilliant Achilles, shining Achilles, godlike Achilles…

How the epithets pile up. We never called him any of those things; we called him ‘the butcher’.

Such a concise yet powerful opening! It really hammers home the idea that “history” is written by the victors. One (wo)man’s hero can be another’s villain.

 

 

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The Friday 56 is a bookish meme hosted by Freda’s Voice that asks you to: Grab a book, any book, and turn to page 56 and find a sentence that grabs you.

 

Somebody once said to me: You never mention his looks. And it’s true, I don’t, I find it difficult. At that time, he was probably the most beautiful man alive, as he was certainly the most violent, but that’s the problem. How do you separate a tiger’s beauty from its ferocity? Or a cheetah’s elegance from the speed of its attack? Achilles was like that – the beauty and the terror were two sides of a single coin.

I’m really enjoying Barker’s prose and Briseis’ voice so far. It will be interesting to see where this retelling is headed, but I have to admit I’ll be surprised if I end up loving it as much as Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles.

 

Have you read The Silence of the Girls? What are you planning to read this weekend?

11 thoughts on “Friday Reads: The Silence of the Girls

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    1. Glad to hear you enjoyed this, Laura! I did too, although not quite as much as I had hoped. I look forward to reading more of Pat Barker’s work in the future.

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  1. Hi Jessie! I was very interested to see your take on Pat Barker’s Silence of the Girls. I’m an old classics hound from way back and I love Pat Barker since I read her Regeneration Trilogy, so Silence has been on my list since it was published. And yet — I’ve been avoiding it, as I was afraid it would just be too brutal. When I first read the Iliad as a teenager, shining godlike Achilles was my hero (hey! I was really young and everyone loves a winner). On a re-read a few years later, it was Hector, of course — his murder by Achilles was almost unbearable. And now, to actually experience the war as it was experienced by women who were war prizes and sexual slaves — well, if anyone can do it, Pat Barker can. On the other hand, maybe I’ll just re-read Madeline’s Circe or Song of Achilles … just kidding! I’ll be very interested to read your take on Barker’s entire novel, after you’ve finished1

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    1. It sounds like you definitely need to pick this up ASAP, Janakay! This was my first experience with Pat Barker and I’m now interested to read more of her work. There were aspects of this that I really loved, but as a whole I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I had hoped. I think I wanted a little more to the story, specifically more details about what life was like for these women. I also was not a fan of the chapters that were written from Achilles’ point of view. I found it a strange choice to literally “silence” Briseis during these sections, and really wish Barker had found a way to convey the same information in her voice instead. These chapters also felt like too much of a rehash to the story we’ve already heard, while I wanted more of the women’s story. However, there were so many beautiful, harrowing, and powerful passages that really grabbed me. I thought Barker did an excellent job at conveying Briseis’ state of mind after the trauma she’s endured. If it helps, I didn’t find it to be too brutal, especially considering the subject matter. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and hope you’ll love it even more than I did!

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