In The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, the classical Greek characters from the Trojan War become relatable.
Queen Briseis has been stolen from her conquered homeland and given as a concubine to a foreign warrior. The warrior is Achilles: famed hero, loathed enemy, ruthless butcher, darkly troubled spirit. Briseis’s fate is now indivisibly entwined with his.
No one knows it yet, but there are just ten weeks to go until the Fall of Troy, the end of this long and bitter war. This is the start of The Iliad: the most famous war story ever told. The next ten weeks will be a story of male power, male ego, male violence. But what of the women? The thousands of female slaves in the soldiers’ camp – in the laundry, at the loom, laying out the dead? Briseis is one of their number – and she will be our witness to history.
The Silence of the Girls is published by Penguin and available to purchase in digital, hardcover and audiobook formats. The paperback releases 6th June 2019.
First of all I want to say that if you have never heard of the Trojan War or The Illiad, don’t let that put you off reading. You will enjoy the complex relationships and the uniqueness of seeing through Briseis’ eyes.
Briseis is a strong woman (there is a Wiki page for Briseis if you’re interested in the background). I’m not sure I would have handled everything quite as well as she does! The sights that she sees and the experiences that she has in the army camp are a long, long way from wearing a veil and being kept inside the palace because no-one could look on her. Despite making friends with some of the other women who were captured, life is full of fear and the unknown … and of course the women are powerless. Life with Agamemnon is very different from that with Achilles. She says:
“So we spent the nights curled up like spiders at the centre of our webs. Only we weren’t the spiders, we were the flies.”
A perfect description!
The complex relationship between Achilles and Patroclus drew me in. I thought this was portrayed really well. I felt very emotional when Patroclus was brought back to Achilles camp. His is the only male humility and humanity we see in this legend.
The reality of the war, treating injuries and life in the camp are brutal. It was so easy to believe myself taking part in this life. I feel honoured to have had this experience. The uniqueness of seeing this war through the narration of Queen Briseis gives a new perspective and although hard-hitting, one which I enjoyed.
There’s an interesting article/interview with Pat Barker in The Guardian you might find interesting.
A recommended read from me.
Pat Barker was born in Yorkshire and began her literary career in her forties, when she took a short writing course taught by Angela Carter. Encouraged by Carter to continue writing and exploring the lives of working class women, she sent her fiction out to publishers. Thirty-five years later, she has published fifteen novels, including her masterful Regeneration Trilogy, been made a CBE for services to literature, and won awards including the Guardian Fiction Prize and the UK’s highest literary honour, the Booker Prize. She lives in Durham and her latest novel is The Silence of the Girls.
Penguin/Michael Joseph on Jera’s Jamboree.