Review: The Silence of the Girls

The Silence of the Girls The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Barker recenters the narrative of the Trojan War around a crucial but often under-valued character: Briseis, the woman turned slave captured and given over to Achilles as a reward for his accomplishments. Thus, readers get a bird's eye view of the events of The Iliad and beyond, while presenting the often silenced voice of the characters of the story. While stories have often been told about the noble women whose lives interweave with the Trojan War, we hear almost nothing from the slaves who were taken and traded throughout. Briseis's story is one of falling from nobility into slavery as she becomes a pawn for the egos of Achilles and Agamemnon. While she is used as a pawn, she is passive and that is the beauty of Barker's work. She gives us a richer world of experience, relationships, and struggles that Briseis must navigate with the Trojan War as background noise. Overall, I enjoyed Barker's development of Briseis and how each part of her journey showed her strength, ability, and judgment grew. I also found it fascinating how Barker worked in the grittier details of a long war looks like rather than the glossed-over image within the traditional texts. The one thing I grappled with within this book was the point of view. Briseis tells her story in first-person narration for most of the book. However, periodically, a third-person point of view takes up the story to flesh out Achilles' life. On the one hand, denying Achilles' first-person makes sense--enough attention has been focused on him. But going with the third person leaves the narrative feeling less integrated or just clunkily switching from an interview with Briseis to an accounting of events from some other place. Regardless, the tale is still one worth enjoying, especially if you're a sucker for retold Greek tales.

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