The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date:
Length: 325 pages
Greek Mythology | Fantasy | Historical Fiction

CW: slavery

Queen Briseis has been stolen from her conquered homeland and given as a concubine to a foreign warrior. The warrior is Achilles: famed hero, loathed enemy, ruthless butcher, darkly troubled spirit. Briseis’s fate is now indivisibly entwined with his.

No one knows it yet, but there are just ten weeks to go until the Fall of Troy, the end of this long and bitter war. This is the start of The Iliad: the most famous war story ever told. The next ten weeks will be a story of male power, male ego, male violence. But what of the women? The thousands of female slaves in the soldiers’ camp – in the laundry, at the loom, laying out the dead? Briseis is one of their number – and she will be our witness to history.



After reading Madeline Miller’s Circe I immediately went on the hunt to find more books about the women in Greek mythology. The Silence of the Girls was at the top of the list for books to check out and it was very easy to see why. 

Briseis is such an interesting, complex character who Barker develops well throughout the novel. I have never heard of the stories concerning the women during the Trojan war, except for Helen of Troy. So, I was fascinated to find out about the other side. I loved how Barker portrayed the conflict that Briseis faced as she began to understand Achilles. Speaking of which, I also loved how Achilles was written. At first I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel about him, as the novel is from Briseis perspective, for the most part. However, it became clear that there was more to Achilles than initially thought, especially when we’re allowed little snippets of his perspective at times. 

What struck me straight away was how Barker didn’t shy away from the brutality of the conflict. Her descriptions of the violence, and the deaths of Briseis’ family, left you in shock and upset despite not knowing the characters at all. Allowing you to fully experience what Briseis was feeling in that moment. Another thing that surprised me, but I loved, was how the women interacted with each other. All of them had lost their families to the Greek men who they now serve and yet, for the most part, they all took it in their stride and they refused to be broken by it which was very admirable. 

This book made me laugh, and cry, and once the novel was over I couldn’t do anything but sit there and take it all in. I would have loved to follow Briseis’ journey further but it also ended in the perfect place too. I was gripped from the beginning and the pages quickly flew by as I became engrossed in this tale, the pacing was excellent and it was refreshing to read a different side of the Trojan war that so many of us think we know. 

I haven’t stopped thinking about this novel since I read it and it has just further fuelled my interest in reading as many Greek mythology retellings as I can! I will also be checking out more of Barker’s novels as her writing is wonderful. 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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