Book Review: The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

The Silence of the Girls’ by Pat Barker was published in 2018 and retells events that take place during the siege of Troy from the perspective of Briseis, one of Achilles’ war prizes and former Queen of Lyrnessus. Breisis tells the story of her enslavement throughout the years of war on her land.

What I loved the most about ‘The Silence of the Girls’ was how it contrasted with another novel based on the same events, ‘The Song Of Achilles’, which I reviewed separately in 2022. While Madeline Miller told a poetic, romanticised story of the intimate relationship Achilles and Patroclus had from childhood until death, Pat Barker is crude and raw in her depiction of the way the Trojan slaves were treated.

Barker pulls no punches when discussing how the women were treated, raped repeatedly, rearing their captor’s children, sleeping under huts with rats and dogs when they weren’t young or pretty enough to get a bed in the women’s huts, exploited for manual labour in youth and old age. It was a heartbreaking story that provided another look into a woman like Briseis.

I loved this intimate description of her fall from grace, her new status, the changing world around her and navigating her role as a bed slave for Achilles. With that in mind, I would encourage caution in reading this novel as it could prove triggering due to the depictions of rape that take place throughout.

‘The Silence of the Girls’ was an emotive story about fear and the realities of war, often overshadowed in study and retellings. As she says in the novel, “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.”

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