Hot on the heels of Madeline Miller’s fabulous novel Circe comes another stunning book based on Greek myths and the Trojan War. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker is a recount of Homer’s testosterone fuelled Greek epic poem The Iliad. This time, from the perspective of the other half, the long suffering women. An absolutely riveting read. Go get it!
The story starts with the terrifying last moments before Lyrnessus, our heroine Briseis’ home city, falls to the Greeks. The women and children have sought refuge on the top floor of the citadel. As the sounds of clashing swords and screams approach, the women prepare themselves for the inevitable, death or sexual enslavement. Breisis’ fate it sealed, she’s the princess of Lyrnessus and will be the prize of Achilles’, the most fearful and brutal soldier of them all and the man who has just massacred her son, husband, father and brothers.
I do what no man before me has ever done, I kiss the hands of the man who killed my son […] And I do what countless women before me have been forced to do. I spread my legs for the man who killed my husband and my brothers.
The women are brought along to the camp at the outskirts of Troy with the other spoils of war – tapestries, armour, jewellery – and treated like ‘things’. They are sexually abused, beaten or sacrificed and, of course, never ever allowed to talk, unless spoken to. The adage ‘Silence becomes a woman’ throws chilling echoes to our own times.
We suffer with Breisis as she submits herself to her Achilles. We despair at Achilles’ haughtiness and pride. When Achilles’ goddess mother Thetis appears out of the sea, it somehow doesn’t seem ridiculous or unbelievable. Barker brings us back to ancient Greece, the smells, sounds and sights, and it’s impossible not to get sucked in.
The Silence of the Girls is a fast paced read with plenty of blood and gore, as you’d expect from a Greek drama. Barker really knows how to portray war and battle (remember her First World War Regeneration trilogy?). The story slows down a bit towards the middle, but quickly regains its breakneck speed with a nail biting ending. Highly recommended.
Interested in Greek myths? Try the fabulous Circe by Madeline Miller.
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker is published by Hamish Hamilton, 336 pages.