The Silence of the Girls

The Silence of the Girls

by Pat Barker

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Overview

Shortlisted for the 2018 Costa Novel Award
Shortlisted for the 2019 Women's Prize for Fiction

From the Booker Prize-winning author of the Regeneration trilogy comes a monumental new masterpiece, set in the midst of literature's most famous war. Pat Barker turns her attention to the timeless legend of The Iliad, as experienced by the captured women living in the Greek camp in the final weeks of the Trojan War.

The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, who continue to wage bloody war over a stolen woman—Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman watches and waits for the war's outcome: Briseis. She was queen of one of Troy's neighboring kingdoms, until Achilles, Greece's greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles's concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army.
     When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and cooly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position to observe the two men driving the Greek forces in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate, not only of Briseis's people, but also of the ancient world at large.
     Briseis is just one among thousands of women living behind the scenes in this war—the slaves and prostitutes, the nurses, the women who lay out the dead—all of them erased by history. With breathtaking historical detail and luminous prose, Pat Barker brings the teeming world of the Greek camp to vivid life. She offers nuanced, complex portraits of characters and stories familiar from mythology, which, seen from Briseis's perspective, are rife with newfound revelations. Barker's latest builds on her decades-long study of war and its impact on individual lives—and it is nothing short of magnificent.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385544214
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/04/2018
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 61,256
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

PAT BARKER is the author of Union Street, Blow Your House Down, The Century's Daughter, The Man Who Wasn't There, the Regeneration trilogy (Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road), Another World, Border Crossing, Double Vision, and the Life Class trilogy (Life Class, Toby's Room, and Noonday). She lives in Durham.

Hometown:

Durham, England

Date of Birth:

May 8, 1943

Place of Birth:

Thornaby-on-Tees, England

Education:

London School of Economics; Durham University

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Excerpted from "The Silence of the Girls"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Pat Barker.
Excerpted by permission of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

1. Briseis’ attitude toward Achilles changes throughout the course of the novel. Did you always find yourself agreeing with her opinion of him? Why or why not?

2. What is most striking about the difference between how Achilles presents himself privately and publicly? In what ways do the two personas merge toward the end of the novel?

3. How did The Silence of the Girls impact your understanding of The Illiad? What did this book add to the story of the Trojan War as a whole?

4. There are many visceral and devastating depictions of war and its aftermath in Silence of the Girls. Which moment struck you as the most heartbreaking or poignant?

5. Honor, both familial and for your city, is a strong theme of The Illiad. How does this theme apply to The Silence of the Girls?

6. Throughout the course of the novel, we see Briseis through many traumatic experiences, including her fall from Queen to concubine. Were you ever surprised by her reactions to these experiences? How would you have reacted to these experiences?

7. The Silence of the Girls is a retelling of The Illiad from one of the minor character’s point of view. If Pat Barker were to write another retelling, whose point of view would you be most interested in reading? How, for instance, might Paris, Helen’s lover, tell his tale?

8. If The Silence of the Girls were written from the point of view of a male minor character, how would that change the story?

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The Silence of the Girls 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
gaele More than 1 year ago
Told in predominantly first person POV, we have the final weeks of detail on the battle for dominance of Troy from Briseis’ view. Former queen, taken by Achilles as a prize of war when he defeated her husband and brothers. Now a concubine, her awareness of the fact that she is not the hero of her own story, with no choice but to watch events unfold around her is clear {perhaps too clear – a fault of time elapsed from event to retell?} that gives an intriguing, and particularly easy to see the influence and moments from Homer’s original. With a few moments where Achilles’ perspective is presented, with an interesting presentation of his brutality while examining the perception of his heroism, a juxtaposition that many authors fail to handle as deftly. But the story is far more than just a retelling: Briseis is both politically adept and a keen observer of the world around her: no shrinking violet, she is watching, waiting and making choices that will best serve her for the future, should there be one. She manages to present her tale with musings that harken back to the lyricism and poetic feel /nature of Homer’s original, in fact I felt that much of the original’s rhythmic prose that added that sense of a classic, while present, also allowed the clear voice of Briseis as her story presents one of a person without a real dog in the fight, free to recount moments experienced from her unique perspective. Not simply a tale of ‘yet another woman in love with her captor’, the nuance and clear presentation of traits and characteristics often in direct contrast help to define and illustrate both Achilles and Patroclus, contrasting their moments of petulance, empathy and even jealousies adds another layer to the tale, allowing those interested in returning to the original a newer {and perhaps more connected} perspective and way to appreciate the tale, history and humanity within. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Anonymous 9 months ago
I+felt+the+language+used+was+far+to+coarse.+It+could+have+been+toned+down+a+bit.+But+overall+a+nicely+written+account+of+ancient+Greeks%2C+their+wars%2C+and+how+women+were+treated.
Sensitivemuse 10 months ago
This is a retelling of The Iliad - no need to read it however a bit of the basics of it would help you understand this book more, just for background information. It can be a rather difficult read. Not to say it’s hard to understand, but more of the detailed subject matter. It’s shocking to read when these women are going through an era where war is prevalent, and the best outcome for them is to be a trophy, instead of a slave. (Although, those two terms are pretty much the same thing if you think about it) It’s scary, and eye opening at the same time. These women go through a lot of trauma and Briseis has it slightly better than the other women out there (which says a lot). They’re pretty much treated like cattle and nothing could be done with it. Unfortunately this is the norm during war. The relationship between Briseis and Achilles was interesting. Despite the conqueror and war trophy titles, it develops and evolves as Achilles goes though life changing events through the novel. You do however, have a heart for Patroclus. He seemed more human and his friendship with Briseis is what might have kept her going through all this time in the book. In a sense too, she also benefited from being with Achilles (albeit, not her choice) This is definitely word a read through if you’re interested in Greek Mythology and retellings this is worth the read, despite the slow but steady pace. The retelling of the Iliad from Briseis’ point of view is a good one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a long-time Pat Barker fan, and I worry that this latest gem isn’t getting the attention it deserves. Not only is it beautifully — and vividly — written, but to anyone who knows the Iliad or the general story of the fall of Troy, this look at the story from a very different perspective is truly enlightening. Much is being written and discussed these days about the me too movement, but this book brings to life the realities of powerlessness in ways that Go beyond anger and hit directly at the heart.
DeediReads More than 1 year ago
“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’.” Full disclosure: Books like this were made for me. I love feminist fiction, and I really love retellings — especially Greek mythology. Madeline Miller is my jam. This book is also my jam. I loved every page. The Silence of the Girls is a retelling of parts of the Illiad, the Trojan War, from the point of view of Briseis. She was Queen of Lyrnessus before Achilles et al sacked the city. Then she was given to Achilles to be his bed slave as a war prize. She also develops a friendship with Patroclus and many of the other women who were slaves. “Yes, I watched him. Every waking minute — and there weren’t many minutes I allowed myself to sleep in his presence. It’s strange, but just then, when I said ‘I watched him’ I very nearly added ‘like a hawk,’ because that’s what people say, isn’t it? That’s how you describe an intent, unblinking stare. But it was nothing like that. Achilles was the hawk. I was his slave to do what he liked with; I was completely in his power. If he’d woken up one morning and decided to beat me to death, nobody would have intervened. Oh, I watched him all right, I watched him like a mouse.” Part I of the book takes us through the events from the sacking of Lyrnessus until Agamemnon decides that he wants to take Briseis from Achilles. (The last sentence of Part I gave me literal chills.) Then Part II takes us from that point until Achilles’ death, with special attention paid to the time after Patroclus died. Throughout, the prose whacks you in the stomach again and again, giving voice and character and depth to the women of the Illiad. The women who either chose death before their cities were sacked or suffered afterward. Those women were there, in the story, but how often do we allow ourselves to pause and think about what they suffered? Briseis’ narration is really powerful. She holds no punches; her description is told with the same cold and detached feeling that she experiences daily. It’s chilling. This was also a really interesting look at Achilles. He’s cold and distant and ruthless but also somewhat childish and also hungry for warmth and affection. It makes you not quite like him, but also not quite dislike him either. All in all, this book was gripping and begs to be pondered. Read it. “We’re going to survive — our songs, our stories. They’ll never be able to forget us. Decades after the last man who fought at Troy is dead, their sons will remember the songs their Trojan mothers sang to them. We’ll be in their dreams–and in their worst nightmares too.”
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm a sucker for period pieces so naturally I dove in. This book is a an eye opening thought provoker I never knew I needed to read. Heartbreaking and touching, it'll make you rethink history and have you questioning every classic tale you've read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A refreshing take on the Trojan War
PaulAllard More than 1 year ago
Mythological drama revisited - nicely done and original The retelling of parts of the Trojan War seen through the eyes of Briseis is interesting and an original concept. The upshot is the lowly and pathetic role of women in ancient times as breeders and chattel. Achilles features greatly in this novel and, like most men, does not come out of it with much grace. For someone who already knew the story from an early love of Greek mythology, there are few surprises in the main story: it’s just the woman’s take on the tale which make the book different and interesting. Enjoyable and worth a look if that’s your bag.
joseph_spucklerJS More than 1 year ago
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker is a retelling of the Illiad through the eyes of Briseis. Barker was born in Thornaby-on-Tees in 1943. She was educated at the London School of Economics and has been a teacher of history and politics. She is the author of several historical fiction novels. Briseis was the mythical queen of Lyrnessus in Asian Minon at the time of the Trojan War. She finds herself trapped in the city walls as the Greeks lay siege to the city. She watches as Achilles kills her husband and sons. Briseis is taken prisoner and given to Achilles as a prize by Agamemnon. Captive life is not pleasant as Achilles bedmate, but she does have freedom of movement in the camp. She becomes key in the dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon. The story told from the Briseis perspective a queen who is suddenly a slave is exciting in itself since slaves and women never had a voice in that period (mythical or not). At some point, however, it does seem like women's literature especially when Briseis talks with the other women in the camp. The language appears too modern in places, but I suppose there were the same words in Greek as modern English. This is also offset by with battles and bubonic plague.  There is a healthy mix of perspective, mythology, and storytelling in this novel. An excellent telling of a classic story that does adds to the original instead of harming the original.  A well-done adaptation.