[REVIEW] The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker @PenguinRHUK

What attracted me to this book was the plot – Trojan War, Achilles! – but most of all the promise of it being told from the point of women and being centered around them. I also have to say that the cover is so beautiful and it just suits the book so well.

‘I was immediately aware of a new desire, to be part of it, to dissolve into it: the sea that feels nothing and can never be hurt.’

The book begins with Briseis, who upon taking shelter as the war rages on in her city decides to check on her mother-in-law because she’s sick. Making sure her mother-in-law got what she needed she returns back to the place where women and children hide and await their doom. When the Greeks enter Lyrnessus, Briseis is standing on the roof of a building of the shelter and what she witnesses is very horrific – Achilles killing her brothers and husband – but if that’s not enough to cause chills down her spine, Achilles looks up and stares at her and then continues his quest in conquering the city. What she feared happens and once fighting’s over the men turn their attention to women and children. Most of the women become imprisoned as slaves to certain kings. Briseis becomes awarded to Achilles who happens to have killed every person she loved. She’s put in this horrifying situation where she has to be brave in order to survive and although she hates Achilles and all the men who destroyed her city – she must not show it. From this point on our story begins and what we as readers witness is the ugliness of war.

The way Pat Barker told this story brought shivers down my spine at times because I felt like I was witnessing the horrors the women in it went through – from being raped to preparing men’s bodies for cremation. Barker is a fantastic writer and her skills to make you feel like you were there are something to admire. Briseis was such a fascinating character and I loved her strength. Barker showed that it’s not just the men who fight in the war that have strength but the women whose roles are so important. The ‘godlike’ Achilles was wonderfully written as well as Patroclus who I loved throughout the novel as well as the portrayal of their ‘friendship’. What I found annoying was the use of certain words that made me cringe e.g. ‘mate’ because they didn’t fit this story. I mean it is a retelling of an important event in Greek mythology so that’s why I found it cringey. I loved how women were portrayed in this novel because of their strength but not so much when it came to the raping and using of the women – the author including the brutality of it made the story richer in a way because that’s how women were treated. I liked that the author didn’t shy away from gory scenes and described certain scenes in detail. The Silence of the Girls came at a perfect time in my life because I spent many hours lost in it.

The Silence of the Girls is a fascinating look into the Trojan War from the perspective of a queen turned Achilles’ slave, Briseis. Inside this book you’ll find the brutality of war and pain women had to endure in order to secure their survival. More often in these tales women are cast aside but their roles are much greater whenever a war rages.

I would like to thank the publisher Penguin Random House UK (Hamish Hamilton) for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and weren’t influenced by anything.

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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 new novel, The Silence of the Girls, will be published by Hamish Hamilton in August 2018.

Find her on: Goodreads

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