The Silence of the Girls

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The Silence of the Girls
The Silence of the Girls.jpg
First edition (UK)
AuthorPat Barker
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreGreek mythology
PublisherHamish Hamilton (UK)
Doubleday Books (US)
Publication date
4 September 2018
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Preceded byNoonday (novel) 

The Silence of the Girls is a 2018 novel by English novelist Pat Barker. It recounts the events of the Iliad, chiefly from the point of view of Briseis.

Plot summary[edit]

The plot begins when Greeks led by Achilles sack Lyrnessus, describing the looting and burning of the city, the massacre of its men and the abduction of its women including Briseis, the childless wife of its king Mynes. When the women are handed out to the leaders of the Greek raiders, Briseis, as a royal (and according to the Iliad, beautiful) is awarded to Achilles.

The plot then becomes that of the Iliad, covering the dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon over Chryseis which results in Achilles yielding Briseis to Agamemnon, Achilles' subsequent refusal to join the fighting, then the deaths of Patroclus, Hector, and finally Achilles. Briseis has become pregnant with Achilles' child shortly before his death, of which Achilles has foreknowledge; he marries her to one of his lieutenants and the story ends as they depart the Trojan shores to return to their homes.

The story is told chiefly by Briseis in the first person, with interjections giving Achilles' internal state of mind. However, as the title suggests, Briseis' narrative is almost entirely internal; except in flashbacks to times before her capture, she speaks out loud hardly at all, only a few handfuls of words.

Parts of the closing sequence, describing the fate of Troy's women and the sacrifice of Priam's daughter at Achilles' burial mound, are taken from The Trojan Women by Euripides.[1]

The novel features appearances by many characters from the Iliad including Priam, Nestor, Ajax the Great, Agamemnon, and Helen of Troy. It portrays with great intensity the brutality and filth of the war, and the emotional state of Achilles and Patroclus. Achilles' mother, the Nereid Thetis, appears but only speaks to Achilles when he grieves for Patroclus and she asks what's wrong and says she will bring him armor.

Critical reception[edit]

The Silence of the Girls was generally well-received.[2][3][4][5][6] Reviewers universally noted the novel's intense, often coarsely raw, portrayal of women's experience of war and its complete lack of glamorization or praise of anything military. The following passage was excerpted by multiple reviewers: No longer an issue of decorum, now it’s about staying alive. "I do what no man before me has ever done, I kiss the hands of the man who killed my son," declares Priam when he prostrates himself before Achilles begging for Hector’s body. “And I do what countless women before me have been forced to do," Briseis thinks bitterly, "I spread my legs for the man who killed my husband and my brothers."

Some reviewers (Gilbert in The Atlantic, Wilson in The Guardian) commented with disfavor on Barker's use of contemporary idioms, arguing that it was jarringly out of sync with the novel's Trojan-war backdrop. Several noted the parallel with Circe by Madeline Miller, also from 2018 and also accomplished by turning a minor female figure from Homeric myth into the protagonist of a novel.


  1. ^ Wilson, Emily (22 August 2018). "The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker review – a feminist Iliad". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  2. ^ Scholes, Lucy (24 August 2018). "The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, review: An impressive feat of literary revisionism that should be on the Man Booker longlist". The Independent. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  3. ^ Murad, Mahvesh. "The War on Women: Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls". Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  4. ^ Carey, Anna (September 1, 2018). "The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker: a stunning new novel". The Irish Times. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  5. ^ Patrick, Bethanne (September 6, 2018). "Revisiting 'The Iliad' from the women's perspective". Washington Post. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  6. ^ Gilbert, Sophie (September 24, 2018). "The Silence of Classical Literature's Women". The Atlantic. Retrieved 3 October 2018.