Book Review: The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Book Review Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

First things, first.  The Silence of the Girls is the best book that I have read so far this year.  

Great Achilles.  Brilliant Achilles, shining Achilles, godlike Achilles … How the epithets pile up.  We never called him any of those things; we call him ‘the butcher’.

Pat Barker, The Silence of the Girls

Not bad for an opening paragraph and the book just gets better.  Pat Barker has set about retelling The Iliad. Only this time instead of seeing the story told from the men’s point of view we look through a 19 year old girl’s eyes.  Briseis, Queen of Lyrnessus has been taken captive after the Greek’s sacked her city, she has been given to Achilles as his prize of honour.  He has killed her brothers and her husband and now she must sleep with him.

The Silence of the Girls is all about war.  It goes on all around us but apart from watching the sacking of Lyrnessus from the high walls of its citadel we never see any fighting.  Once they are captured the women never leave the camp, they can hear the battle, but see it.   They tend the dying, dress the dead but never set foot on the field of battle itself.

Briseis appears in The Iliad we see her given to Achilles, we see Agamemnon take her and the pair feud over her.  We don’t, however see the other captive women.  The Silence of the Girls shows us life in the rape camps.  Women do have a choice, they can sleep with their captors or die.  And yet, and yet.  Achilles does not seem to be a total monster.  Agamemnon is awful, but then he is awful in The Iliad too.  This is a retelling of the tale for the #MeToo generation and yet Pat Barker must have started writing it before the hashtag.

This is a story that has been told over and over again for thousands of years.  Chances are that you will have a seen a film based on the book, maybe read The Iliad itself and if not, then the tale of Helen of Troy will have wafted past at some point.  Even though you know what is going to happen, I sat up long into the night reading just one more page.  Now the search is on, will I read a better book this year?

Seeking inspiration for your next read? Check out my Best Books 2017 post 

Disclosure: The Silence of the Girls was sent to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review



  1. August 31, 2018 / 9:07 am

    Sounds like a thrilling read!

    • Catherine
      August 31, 2018 / 9:08 am

      So good, now I want to read Circe by Madeline Miller

  2. helenvicjo
    August 31, 2018 / 11:09 am

    I can’t wait to read this – I so enjoyed Miller’s The Song of Achilles earlier this summer and bought Circe on the strength of it ( though haven’t quite started it yet!). This first book starts with Achilles’ childhood and of course continues with his life through the Trojan wars and his relationship with Patroclus – worth reading this before Circe, I think. After that, I guess I’d better crack on with The Iliad, plus Emily Wilson’s well-recieved new translation of The Odyssey. Too many books, so little time.
    Oh, there was an interesting discussion with Barker and various scholars at lunchtime yesterday ( Thurs) on R4 – worth catching on i-Player.

    • Catherine
      August 31, 2018 / 11:48 am

      I loved The Song of Achilles and have Circe on my Christmas list. Off to the iPlayer now!

  3. August 31, 2018 / 10:39 pm

    Thanks Catherine, that’s the second great review I’ve read of this so it’s now in my Amazon basket. Might have to go to iPlayer too!

    • Catherine
      August 31, 2018 / 10:55 pm

      Let me know what you think!

  4. September 2, 2018 / 6:52 am

    What an opening paragraph! It gave me goosebumps. Loved your review too. Best book of the year so far? I think that’s one I have to read.

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