The Silence of the Girls

 I was moved and enthralled by Pat Barker's World War I Regeneration trilogy in the 1990s but I haven't read much of her other work. When The Silence of the Girls was recommended by a friend, I wasn't even aware that it was about the Trojan War, but it's made a salutary contrast with The Song of Achilles, which I read last year and thoroughly enjoyed.

The Song of Achilles is a young person's novel -- bright and vivid, sexy and immersive. The Silence of the Girls is the work of a much older woman (Barker is nearly 80): a grim and bitter story, a sadder, deeper, crueller book than the other. There is some magic here, and divine trickery, but on the whole the story is far grittier, not holding back on the gore and agony of warfare. 

The Silence of the Girls told from the point of view of Briseis, a princess of Troy, who is captured and enslaved by the soldiers of the Greek camp and ends up as Achilles prize. In The Song of Achilles, she becomes a close friend of Patroclus, but never intrudes on the romance between the two male warriors; in The Silence of the Girls, she also has a loving friendship with Patroclus, but a more complicated relationship with Achilles, who uses her for sex and apparently a kind of mother substitute (Achilles in Barker's version is less straighforwardly homosexual than in Miller's novel). Though it's ostensibly the women's story, we also see a lot of the men, and the price for their posturing and pride is always paid by the women they treat as less than fully human.

I'm really glad I read this book, which sobered me up after the heady, romantic delights of Song of Achilles. There's very little glory in The Silence of the Girls, and it proves that whichever century you're writing about, war is equally dreadful, for fighters and civilians alike.

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