The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker is the first book in her re-telling of Homer’s Iliad. The story is narrated mainly by Briseis who has been given to Achilles as his prize although from time to time we get things from the perspective of Achilles. It’s a big change in the fortunes of Briseis as she’s gone from being a queen to being a slave and concubine and she knows that at any time if Achilles feels like it he could hand her over to the ordinary soldiers to do what they want with her. Some of the women have chosen to commit suicide rather than be used by their conquerors, but Briseis can’t bring herself to do that.
There’s a clash of personalities between King Agamemnon and Achilles. Agamemnon is keeping safe in his ship, just observing fighting and this is infuriating Achilles who decides that if Agamemmnon isn’t going to risk his life in battle – neither will he. Agamemnon insists on stripping Achilles of his war prizes, meaning that Achilles must give Briseis to him. Achilles had begun to think of Briseis as his wife, he has mental health problems stemming from his mother (of course) who as a goddess had returned to the sea, wading out of it to visit him frequently. Briseis had realised that her own sea bathing had been what had caused Achilles to become interested in her. When he had to give her up to Agamemnon he was bereft. With his army begging him to fight Patroclus decides to pretend he’s Achilles. It’s all going to end in tears!
I enjoyed this although I did think that it is mis-titled as the ‘girls’ don’t feature hugely in the book – on second thoughts maybe that’s the whole idea. Apart from Briseis the most prominent characters are Achilles and Patroclus.
If you’re interested in reading a far more detailed review you can have a look at Jack’s here.