The Blurb (from Goodreads):
The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman—Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman—Briseis—watches and waits for the war’s outcome. 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 coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position, able to observe the two men driving the Greek army 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.
I’ve been reading a lot of books set in Greece in recent months, including books by Mary Renault and Madeline Miller which are inspired by Ancient Greek myth and the great Homeric poems ‘The Odyssey’ and ‘The Iliad’. I’d seen reviews that compared The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker to both of these amazing writers, and so I thought I’d give it a go. I’m very glad I did as it’s a wonderful book, and I’m keen to read more by Pat Barker now.
‘The Iliad’ is famously the story of a bitter and futile war between the Greeks and the Trojans, sparked by the abduction of Helen, whose “face launched a thousand ships.” It is mainly concerned with the violent struggles between the heroes of either side, in particular Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, and Hector, a prince of Troy. Few women are mentioned in the poem, apart from Helen and a few goddesses, but Pat Barker has chosen to tell the story of one of those women.
Briseis was the young queen of a neighbouring kingdom to Troy, until Achilles invaded her country, sacked the city and murdered her husband and brothers. The women are all taken as prizes of war. Briseis is forced to become Achilles’s concubine, and so is enslaved by the man she most hates and fears in the world.
Held captive in the Greek war camp, Briseis is witness to the long brutal siege of Troy and the heartless machinations of men and gods. In a world where women are seen only as objects or commodities, she must find a way to build a new life for herself – if she can survive.
Pat Barker’s writing is simple, luminous, and compelling – a wonderful read!