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The Silence of the GirlsThe Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I wasn't completely sure whether to give this one 4 or 5 stars, but finally settled on 5 for its sheer emotional power. Yes, there is rather modern British dialogue & slang (but, hey, we already know the PBS Roman Empire speaks British English, why not the ancient Greeks?). Yes, it is occasionally disconcerting when the plot shifts viewpoints between Briseis (first person) and her captor Achilles (third person). And even at the end, I was never completely sure who Briseis was telling her tale to. Other than me, of course.

However, none of this mattered while I was reading this very different, very lovely, & very brutal take on the Trojan War. This is war from the captive's view, and not just any captive. Briseis, a young royal woman from a Trojan city, was Achilles' personal prize -- and the the cause of his refusal to fight after Agamemnon took her away. Most of the novel is told from her POV, and it's every bit as harsh (& conflicted) as you'd imagine. Although Barker never gets gratuitously graphic, there's no question here about what happens to women in war.

If you've read the Iliad, you know the plot already. What matters here -- other than some breathtaking writing every so often -- is how women, mostly enslaved, figured into that plot. And how some men were decent in spite of the situation, and how many weren't.

Recommended (strongly) for Mary Renault fans, and anyone else looking for a different view of classical war. Or, probably, war as it still is.





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