Book Review: THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS by Pat Barker

The Silence of the Girls.png
Genre: Historical (retelling)
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: yes - first book in trilogy
CW: rape, sexual slavery, domestic abuse, violence/murder



When her city falls to the Greeks, Briseis’s old life is shattered. She goes from queen to captive, from free woman to slave, awarded to the godlike warrior Achilles as a prize of battle. She’s not alone. On the same day, and on many others in the course of a long, bitter war, innumerable women have been wrested from their homes and flung to the fighters.

As told in The Iliad, the Trojan War was a quarrel between men. But what of the women in this story, silenced by their fates? What words did the speak when alone with each other, in the laundry, at the loom, when laying out the dead?

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


I read Madeline Miller’s THE SONG OF ACHILLES last year, and really loved her stunning take on Homer’s Iliad. Her book focused on the men, on Achilles and Patroclus, and their relationship and tragedy.

Pat Barker tells the same story, but through the eyes of the woman at the heart of the conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon, Briseis. Used as a pawn to display power, she’s flung between men as a possession as battle rages on. It’s such a different perspective, a far more brutal story that paints the men in a very different light – not the gleaming heroes of myth.

There are no holds barred in this story. While there is nothing gratuitous about the sex scenes, and they are very brief – a few detached and brutal lines – this book does not shy away from the fact that the women were abused. They are treated like prizes for the victor’s pleasure and for the men to assert their dominance. It is a stark reminder of the reality behind the epic poem, giving voice to the women who suffered the real tragedies.

It is as gorgeously written as Miller’s, the phrases carefully selected for their harsh tone and bleak outlook. The words will stay with you long after, haunting you with the cries of the women silenced from history by the victors writing the tale. The details picked out aren’t the ones you’d think are mentioned, but it speaks powerfully of a woman trying to cope once the war is over and life has to resume.

Briseis is very passive, because that’s the only way she can survive. Keep her head down, don’t draw attention and don’t anger anyone or she risks death and gang rape. Normally such a passive character would frustrate me, but it demonstrated the horror of her situation.

Following along inside her head as the cruelty of war and men played out around her, the stupidity of the kings’ pride and their need for control, and being equally unable to change her story as much as you wanted to made the situation more tangible. Her thoughts treading the boundary between listless despair and anger.

Read my reviews of other books by Pat Barker:

The Women of Troy (this series):

2 thoughts on “Book Review: THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS by Pat Barker

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s