THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS by Pat Barker

This is the second book I’ve read that’s a retelling of the Iliad or the story of the Trojan War, the first book being The Song of Achilles which I absolutely loved. The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller is one of those books that just made me cry in such a cathartic way, as if I was being renewed from the inside out. I remember that the book stayed with me for days, and every time I thought about it, I would tear up a little bit. It’s that powerful of a book, and it’s a story about human connection and true love on the deepest level, as well as being a tale of sacrifice and destiny.

The Silence of the Girls is an entirely different book. It’s not worse or better than The Song of Achilles and in all fairness should perhaps not be compared to it – even though they’re both retellings of the same tale. The themes in each book are different, with The Silence of the Girls being a retelling of the Trojan War from the perspective of the girls of Troy who were enslaved by the Greeks, rather than a rendition of Achilles’s and Patroclus’s love for each other throughout their whole lives.

Even though Patroclus and Achilles’s love does shine in this book too, the characters are obviously different all around. It was interesting to read about the same characters with them being different this time around, almost as if I were hearing different renditions of the same event being told by another person’s perspective.

This book, The Silence of the Girls, is powerful as well but it’s almost too blunt in its realness. But that would also be unfair to say—that it’s too blunt—because nothing happened in this book that wouldn’t have happened in real life, and so if this book is too blunt, then real life itself is too blunt as well. In truth I just found it kind of horrible that all of these female characters suffered such a harsh fate. The main character here, Briseis, also suffers from a kind of lack of agency within the story. But given that she’s a slave, it is perhaps understandable that her agency is close to null, and that she cannot make things happen within the story rather than just survive and bear the things that happen to her.

This is not to say that I didn’t like the book, because I did. Pat Barker is a spectacular writer and a very engaging storyteller, and this book is also a sort of masterpiece but in a different, less romantic way than The Song of Achilles is. It did not make me cry so much as it stunned me and also kind of depressed me. But it was enjoyable in the way that a good book is always enjoyable because it engulfs you completely.

If you want to feel inspired, read The Song of Achilles. If on the other hand you are interested in understanding and studying the life conditions and psychology of those people (women, I am talking about women here) who have historically been robbed of their agency and subjected to the whims and cruelty of men, read The Silence of the Girls. I am now reading the sequel, The Women of Troy. It takes place after the ending of the Iliad and right before the beginning of the Odyssey, and also centers on the experience and perspective of the women who have taken the brunt of the war. Once I finish I will also let you know my thoughts about that as well!

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