The Silence of the Girls: A Novel

by Pat Barker

Hardcover, 2018

Call number

FICT BAR

Collection

Publication

Doubleday (2018), Edition: 1st Edition, 304 pages

Description

"From the Booker Prize-winning author of the Regeneration trilogy comes a monumental new masterpiece, set in the midst of literature's most famous war. Pat Barker turns her attention to the timeless legend of The Iliad, as experienced by the captured women living in the Greek camp in the final weeks of the Trojan War. The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, who continue to wage bloody war over a stolen woman--Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman watches and waits for the war's outcome: Briseis. She was queen of one of Troy's neighboring kingdoms, until Achilles, Greece's greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles's concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army. When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and cooly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position to observe the two men driving the Greek forces in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate, not only of Briseis's people, but also of the ancient world at large. Briseis is just one among thousands of women living behind the scenes in this war--the slaves and prostitutes, the nurses, the women who lay out the dead--all of them erased by history. With breathtaking historical detail and luminous prose, Pat Barker brings the teeming world of the Greek camp to vivid life. She offers nuanced, complex portraits of characters and stories familiar from mythology, which, seen from Briseis's perspective, are rife with newfound revelations. Barker's latest builds on her decades-long study of war and its impact on individual lives--and it is nothing short of magnificent"--"The Iliad, as experienced by the captured women living in the Greek camp in the final weeks of the Trojan War"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Cariola
Huddled with the other women in the parapet within Lyrnessus's walls, Briseis stands in the shadow of a window and watches the action below. Achilles has already killed her husband and two brothers, and now her youngest brother, barely old enough to fight, is brought down by a spear through the throat. As she watches him die, Achilles raises his head and, she thinks, looks directly at her. By the end of the day, her city will have fallen, and she will be Achilles's slave.

Many novels have been written about the Trojan War, but Barker finds a new way in through the point of view of Briseis, once a queen and a childhood friend of the infamous Helen, now a concubine struggling to make the best of things. The heroics of war take on a new dimension within the confines of the Greek camp where the captive women are assigned to the victors--until they tire of them and are loosed to the general troops. Those too old or unattractive for bed-play are resigned to work in the laundry, charnal house, or hospital, and all of the women take their turns working the looms. Only 19, Briseis tries her best to submit to Achilles's will and is sustained by the unexpected friendship of his companion, Patroclus--at least until Appollo's wrath hits the camp in the form of a plague, and Briseis herself becomes a pawn in both the attempt to pacify the angry god and in the infamous quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon,.

No one examines the effects of war quite like Pat Barker. Regeneration, the first in her World War I trilogy, focuses on the poet Siegfried Sassoon, who was found "mentally unsound" in a court martial after publishing a letter denouncing the war and was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital where, under the care of psychiatist Dr. William Rivers, he was supposed to regain his senses and return to the trenches. (The next two books, eye in the Door and The Ghost Road follow the war through the experiences of Rivers and another patient, Billy Prior.) A second trilogy, Life Class, follows students whose studies at the Slade School of Art are interrupted by World War I; some enlist, others take on sacrifices and supportive tasks at home, including Elinor Brooke, who assists a renowned plastic surgeon in reconstructing the faces of wounded men. (Toby's Room recounts the effect of the death on battlefield of Elinor's brother, and in Noonday, she and her family endure the London Blitz and its aftermath.) Now, in The Silence of the Girls, Barker takes her perceptive imagination to ancient Troy and into the hearts and mind of the least culpable and weakest of the defeated, the captive women. Again, she examines in depth the effects of war, not only on the women but also on the warriors, who become increasingly dehumanized. Like Briseis, she can empathize with them while nonetheless condemning their actions. This is a powerful, brutal book, haunting and beautifully written, a true modern counterpart to The Illiad that resonates in today's world.
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LibraryThing member Perednia
A must-read novel ostensibly about the Trojan War but hits hard in today's world.
LibraryThing member charl08
I wasn't sure I wanted to read this, but when I did pick it up I was very quickly swept up in the story of Briseis, a young captured slave who is awarded to Achilles during the Trojan wars. I know very little about the Trojan wars, but Barker is busy with the lives of the captured women, from their precarious associations to jobs in the camp, from medicine to weaving. The long term interweaving of lives comes through strongly too, from women asked to adapt or die. I felt for Briseis in her dilemmas, and was carried through a blood soaked story willing her to survive.

I read the Regeneration trilogy a long time ago, but I think Barker manages the same thing here, the pity of war.
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LibraryThing member ecataldi
Damn, what a read. I've been on a Greek mythology kick recently and this really helped fuel that. Told from the perspective of not a warrior or a god, but a "lowly" women (although she had been a queen), this viewpoint is much needed and most always overlooked. The female perspective of the Trojan War was a refreshing (albeit terrifying) read. Briseis is taken a prize of war and given to the might Achilles as a slave. From royalty to slave is a far fall, but he knows she still has it better than most of the women in the camp, she could be passed around from man to man, raped at will, having to sleep outside with the dogs. She is grateful that she is "higher up" but how grateful can you be, when you have to open your legs for the man who killed your husbands and brothers? A wonderful read and a refreshing new take on the Trojan War.… (more)
LibraryThing member SChant
Supposedly The Illiad from the women's perspective, but it really wasn't. It lived up to it's title - one "girl" got to talk for a bit in a bland, desultory manner but the rest were more-or-less "silent" and the book turned out to be a dull re-telling of the men's story of the Illiad. I couldn't be bothered to finish it.
LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
As a boy I loved old legends, especially those of the Ancient Greeks, in which humans so often seemed like chess pieces moved around at the whim of the gods. One Christmas, now probably not far short of fifty years ago, my sister gave me a boxed set of Puffin paperbacks by Roger Lancelyn Green, in which he retold a wide selection of old myths. One volume included tales from ancient Egypt, and the antics of their strange gods with those human bodies topped by animals’ or birds’ heads; another recounted the Norse legends, and the grim adventures that befell the people and gods of Middle Earth. The ones I liked best, however, were those about the Greek legends, and in particular, Green’s retelling of the Trojan War, in which wily Odysseus and his friend Diomedes contributed just as much to the success as the physical might of Ajax, or the harsh valour of Achilles. I read them over and over again, and thought I knew everything about the Greeks’ ten-year campaign to avenge Paris’s abduction of the beautiful Helen.

Of course, I knew of The Iliad and The Odyssey, composed (according to legend) by the blind minstrel Homer, and standing at the fountainhead of Western literature. It came as quite a surprise, however, when I finally came to read The Iliad to discover that it didn’t relate the whole ten years of the Trojan War, and all the ins and outs of that dreadful conflict. It is, instead, restricted to a period of about eight weeks, towards the end of the war (although, of course, the protagonists did not know that), and focuses primarily on the bitter dispute between Achilles, unrivalled hero of the Greeks, and Agamemnon, overall leader of the Greek forces and brother of Menelaus, from whom Paris had abducted Helen.

That dispute hinged round two young noble women (Briseis and Chryseis) whom the Greeks seized from one of the cities near Troy that they had sacked. Briseis, was given to Achilles, while Chryseis was delivered to Agamemnon. Chryseis was the daughter of a senior priest of Apollo, and her father came to plead with Agamemnon for her release, offering a large ransom in return. Agamemnon, notable for his pride, anger and utter lack of wisdom or humanity, scorned Chryseis’s father, sending him away empty handed. The priest scurries away, praying to Apollo, whom he addresses by various titles, including the apparently innocuous title ‘Lord of Mice’. Seeing his priest treated with such disdain, Apollo vents his rage. We quickly learn that the epithet, ‘Lord of Mice’ refers to his ability to send plague, which was spread throughout the ancient world by rodents. The Greek camp is soon overrun with a virulent plague, which renders far worse casualties than the Trojans had achieved. After consulting various oracles, the wiser Greek leaders persuade Agamemnon to send Chryseis back to her father, and offer huge sacrifices to appease Apollo. He grudgingly does so, but then insists upon seizing Briseis from Achilles to replace her. This so angers Achilles that (‘sulking in his tent’) he withdraws his men from the campaign. Without the ferocious Achilles and his loyal Myrmidons, the Greeks falter on the battlefield, and lose much of the ground they had so painstakingly won over the previous nine years.

Pat Barker’s book revisits this ancient story from the women’s perspective. It is told mainly by Briseis, a young woman who had been a princess in her own realm (a city state that fell within the overall domain of Troy). She is captured when her city was sacked by the Greeks, and dragged back to their camp. Terrified, and unsure whether she will even survive the first night, she finds herself given to Achilles. In the Roger Lancelyn Green version that I read as a boy, it was merely stated that she was passed to him as a maidservant. Barker shuns any such euphemism, and makes it abundantly clear that Briseis’s future will be as a sexual plaything of Achilles, on call whenever required.

Briseis is a great character. Caught in a dreadful predicament, she remains strong and resourceful, emerging with far more dignity than her cruel and petulant captors. Achilles is more sympathetically drawn than Agamemnon, who is boundlessly cruel, petty and essentially weak, but still shows no ability to see Briseis as a person rather than just an object to gratify his demands. The only Greek male who displays any sort of humanity is Patroclus, Achilles’s lifelong companion and friend.

Where Barker excels is in taking a story with which her readers are already familiar, and successfully reversing the perspective while retaining all the immediacy and draw of the plot. Anyone familiar with the story of Troy knows what is about to happen, and how the different fates of Achilles, Patroclus, Agamemnon, and Troy itself will play out. Despite that, the reader is hooked immediately, and drawn in to Briseis’s story. The book races along, driven by Barker’s clear prose.

It is easy to see why this book, offering a wholly new interpretation on what is literally the oldest tale in western literature was nominated for so many awards. It is a dazzling success.
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LibraryThing member janerawoof
Retelling of the last year or so of the Trojan War, from the point of Briseis, captured queen of another Trojan city, given as prize to Achilles. This describers her capture and life with Achilles as concubine and servant. She is then passed on to Agamemnon; then Achilles refuses to fight. Then after Patroclus' death in combat--he is no Achilles in spite of wearing his armor--she is returned to Achilles, and resumes her former life. Achilles fights like ten men: she enumerates the Trojans he kills, but he is deep in sorrow for the loss of Patroclus and swears he will kill Hector, which he does, and treats Hector's body with complete disrespect. The incident with Priam begging for his son's body is one of the most poignant I've ever read, even after my reading Malouf's Ransom which retold the same incident. Troy does fall and Briseis is married to one of Achilles' aides. The story, Briseis feels, has been Achilles', now, with her husband, hers can begin.

The novel was told in first person, interspersed with sections of action involving Achilles and the war. It was very readable, although not "put-downable." I didn't like the slight mixture of some modern idioms or slang terms; I remember even one OK. I thought the title bland and fit only for a potboiler; this novel was several notches above that.
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LibraryThing member runner56
So to start a quick recap of Ancient History... Agamemnon and Achilles come from different backgrounds, but the war in Troy brings them together. ... Without Achilles, Agamemnon is losing. It isn't until Achilles' companion and best friend Patroclus is killed that Achilles rejoins the Trojan War. And Agamemnon, realizing that Achilles is needed, returns Briseis to him. What was all the fighting about? here is a synopsis According to classical sources, the war began after the abduction (or elopement) of Queen Helen of Sparta by the Trojan prince Paris. Helen’s jilted husband Menelaus convinced his brother Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, to lead an expedition to retrieve her. Agamemnon was joined by the Greek heroes Achilles, Odysseus, Nestor and Ajax, and accompanied by a fleet of more than a thousand ships from throughout the Hellenic world. They crossed the Aegean Sea to Asia Minor to lay siege to Troy and demand Helen’s return by Priam, the Trojan king.

So a beautiful telling of an ancient story woven expertly into The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. However if we delve deeper this is more a novel about the women of those ancient times and how they were (mis) treated sold to the highest bidder to be abused, raped, discarded when their bodies and not their minds were of no further use. The narrator is Briseis who herself becomes involved in a love triangle/struggle between Agamemmon and Achilles. Through her eyes Barker strips away the hero qualities that have often been laid at the feet of Achilles and shows him for what she believes he is an intolerant butchering brute...."I'd been afraid ever since the cities of the Trojan plain started falling to Achilles; every burning, every sacking brought the war closer. But my fear that night was of an altogether different order, more sharply focused than it had ever been before. I knew my presence in the compound no longer reflected well on Amamemmon. Rather the opposite, in fact I was a constant reminder of the quarrel that had brought the Greek army to the brink of defeat. My only potential use, my only value to him- since he certainly didn't want me in his bed- had been as a possible bargaining chip in future negotiations with Achilles...."...."Achilles kept his word, everyone he promised Patroclus he did. He cut the throats of twelve Trojan youths, dragging their heads back by the hair and pulling his knife across their throats as quickly and cleanly as if they'd been goats".......

A lively colourful short novel with a profound message makes The Silence of the Girls a very enjoyable read that could possibly take the author in a different direction leaving the way open for many sequels. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Novelist Barker takes on a retelling of The Iliad from a woman’s point of view. Briseis was a queen when her city fell to the Greeks. She was awarded to Achilles as his war prize, becoming his concubine. From her position as a slave, Briseis describes life within the Greek war camp and the conversations she overhears as she serves at Achilles’ table and later listens to his conversations with Patroclus. While the men in both camps are focused on winning the war, Briseis wants to recover her identity as a person that was taken from her when she became a slave. The outcome of the war is never in doubt since Barker is faithful to the legend of the fall of Troy. Briseis finally realizes that she and the other Trojan women have not been silenced forever when she overhears a Trojan woman singing to her son by her Greek captor. “We’re going to survive—our songs, our stories. They’ll never be able to forget us. Decades after the last man who fought at Troy is dead, their sons will remember the songs their Trojan mothers sang to them. We’ll be in their dreams—and in their worst nightmares, too.… (more)
LibraryThing member ccheripka
I enjoyed The Silence of the Girls, the mythological life of the people in The Illiad....Briseis was a queen captured in the battle between Greece and Troy and turned into a slave. The Silence of the Girls is her story interwoven with the story of her new master, Achilles. Life had little value in this period, blood flowed everywhere and Human Dignity didn't exist...but you have to remember this is mythology not fact.....Fierce warriors can have Sea Goddesses for mothers and in mythology the Gods play a dominating role...I received this book from Doubleday and enjoyed it very much...… (more)
LibraryThing member quondame
Well done, but dragged a bit. I much preferred Lavinia as a tale of women in the background. Without utterly wallowing in degradation it's hard to realistically recreate months in the life of women war captives. It is a story of survival when there is next to no control over what happens, but I found it significantly less interesting a read that The Illiad, which had an excess of groin wounds for my taste.… (more)
LibraryThing member JanaRose1
Briseis, a princess, is given to Achilles as a war prize when her city is overrun and destroyed. Treated as an object, Briseis must quickly adjust to her new life among the Greek army. When Achilles and Agamemnon argue, Agamemnon demands Briseis as his own. Achilles relents, but decides no longer to fight against the Trojans.

This book was hard to put down. Briseis was such a realistic and interesting character. Secondary characters were also well created, and lacked the stereotypical feel that most historical fiction uses. I look forward to reading more from this author. Overall, highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member annbury
A wonderful novel, beautifully written and hard to put down. Pat Barker's novel tells the story of the Iliad through a woman's eyes -- Briseis, the enslaved girl whom Achilles was forced to turn over to Agamemnon, triggering Achilles' rage. The story may be ancient, but in this telling it pulls the reader compulsively forward. The language is simple and almost contemporary, but vivid and hard-hitting, achieving the power of poetry without being overtly poetic. This is the first novel by Barker that I have read: it certainly won't be the last.… (more)
LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
This is a retelling of The Iliad, this time from the point of view of Briseis, a young woman married to the son of a king until Achilles sacked her city and she was taken captive as a slave and given to Achilles. While she has an important role to play in the events, it is as a pawn and not as an active participant. In The Silence of the Girls, Briseis is given her voice and tells her own story.

Pat Barker knows how to tell a story well and this novel is no exception. She takes a familiar tale and makes the least important people, the women taken as slaves, the central focus. I really enjoy that these old and familiar myths are not being kept static, but are being reimagined and reinvigorated. It's also interesting to compare this retelling with Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles, a substantially different and yet equally compelling version of the same story.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
If you devour everything about the Trojan War, this is a fine addition to the canon, but with all the emphasis on mortals, sans intercessions from Olympus. It's told by Briseis, a girl who retreats to Troy when her own city is conquered by the Greeks. She is given to Achilles as spoils, becomes his slave, and is forced to share his bed. She sees up close his obsession with his mother, the sea nymph Thetis, and his strong bond with his comrade Patroclus. In other recountings of the saga, the two men are lovers, but here they are more brotherly. Patroclus has a backstory - he killed a playmate when he was 10 years old, and was sent into the care of Peleus, father of Achilles. The influence the men have on each other is really explored in depth, and Patroclus grows in stature through the eyes of Briseis, simply because he is kind. The other events of the Iliad - the plague caused by rabid rats, the infighting between the Greek captains, the crudeness and cruelty of men entrapped in an endless conflict, the death of Patroclus, Priam's ransom of the body of Hector - are all movingly told. No one is a hero to the enslaved, although the end of Achilles (his supposedly vulnerable heel is debunked here) is surprisingly moving. The soldiers all use Brit slang (the author is British), which is a bit incongruous but amusing, reminding the reader of WW I doughboys – and their trenches.

Quote: "Free people never understand. A slave isn't a person who's treated as a thing. A slave IS a thing, as much in her own estimation as in anybody else's."
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LibraryThing member gypsysmom
Trust Pat Barker to bring ancient history into the 21st century. That's what she has done with this book. Ostensibly it is about the women taken captive by the Greeks as they were waging what we know as The Trojan War. When Homer wrote The Iliad the women in the story (unless they were divine) were treated as chattels. With this story we learn what the women, particularly Briseis who was Achilles' prize, felt.

Briseis went from being a queen in the Trojan city of Lyrnessus to being a slave and comfort girl to the great warrior Achilles. Achilles' best friend (and probable lover) Patroclus befriended Briseis because he knew himself what it was like to be an outsider. Achilles doesn't seem to care one way or another about Briseis but Achilles is angry when Agamennon demands her to take the place of Chryseis, his prize, when he has to return her to her father in order to stop the plague that is ravaging the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight and the Trojans almost win the war. Agamennon is abusive to Briseis and then ignores her. When Agamennon offers to return Briseis to Achilles if he will return to the fighting he asserts that he has not lain with her but Briseis conveys with a look to Achilles that this is not correct. So Achilles refuses the offer and stays out of the warfare. Then Patroclus offers to lead their troops into battle wearing Achilles' armor and Achilles agrees to that. When Patroclus is killed by the Trojan king's son, Hector, Achilles is distraught with grief. He goes back into battle himself and kills Hector, taking his body hostage. Agamennon makes good on his promise to return Briseis but Achilles hardly notices she is back. Achilles continually drags Hector's body around behind his chariot but each night Hector's dead body is restored to pristine condition. Finally Hector's father, Priam, makes his way alone to Achilles' compound and asks for his son's body. Achilles is touched by Priam's bravery and his pleas as a father and allows Priam to take the body. From then on Achilles seems to be better able to cope with the loss of Patroclus and he accepts Briseis into his bed again. Briseis realizes she is pregnant just before Achilles rides out to battle for the final time.

Seen through Briseis' eyes Achilles is something less than "Great Achilles, Brilliant Achilles etc." She says "we called him 'the butcher'". And that certainly comes through loud and clear. From the beginning of the book during the siege of Lyrnessus we see how bloodthirsty the Greeks were. No men were allowed to live; even pregnant women who might give birth to boys were killed. Women were raped, beaten, put to work and if they died, it didn't matter since there were other women to take their place. One of Breiseis' cousins jumped off a building rather than be taken hostage by the Greeks. Of course, the Trojans probably would have been just as bad if they had a chance. Perhaps Helen went willingly with Paris but she just as easily might have been captured and raped by him. No woman inside or outside of Troy had any real freedom. Briseis survived because she learned to efface herself with men. She was a survivor.
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LibraryThing member nmele
Pat Barker tells the story of the Iliad through the eyes of a major character who has no speaking part in Homer's epic: the captive young woman name Briseis. Through Briseis, Barker speaks frankly about what happens to captive women taken in war at this time but also acknowledges the toll on the men. A captive woman like Briseis is used but also witnesses much of the deliberations and rivalries which drive the plot of The Iliad. Barker turns this tale of heroes battling into something quite a bit deeper and ultimately perhaps more accessible to our era while recognizing the importance of the Homeric tradition.… (more)
LibraryThing member alanteder
Review of the Penguin Audiobook edition released Aug. 30, 2018

I don't know if it was a marketing mistake or not, but for some reason the audiobook download edition of The Silence of the Girls was released in North America almost a full two months before its scheduled print release of October 23, 2018. I intend to read the print edition as well but here are some early thoughts based on the audiobook.

I really don't like this title, but the most appropriate title, "The Trojan Women", was already taken by Euripedes, so I can see that Pat Barker would have to compromise with a best alternative. Choosing something that evokes Thomas Harris's Hannibal Lector book & film series doesn't ring very well though.

The book is told primarily in the voice of Brisēís, queen of a Trojan-ally city that is conquered by the Greeks in their (then) 9-year ongoing campaign against Troy. She becomes the enslaved servant of the primary Greek warrior Achilles and is then directly or indirectly the cause of much of the plot elements of Homer's "The Iliad". She is here then witness to the events that unfold according to most of Homer's plot but with extensive background and expanded elements added. The narration by Kristin Atherton in this role is excellent.

There are several interludes where the thoughts and activities of Achilles and his childhood companion/fellow warrior Patroclus are not directly witnessed by Brisēís and are thus narrated in a male voice by Michael Fox (Note: this is not the TV actor Michael J. Fox). The change was jarring at first but the performance itself was totally well-done.

The one anachronistic element that struck me as odd was the appropriation of the (Australian?) bawdy song "Why was She Born so Beautiful?" as an Ancient Greek soldier song. It is repeated in variations several times so you can eventually accept it as a timeless expression of repressed male urges and frustrations. But it is certainly jarring at first.

Counter to its title, The Silence of the Girls gives eloquent voice to Brisēís and many of the other Trojan women whose roles in the Iliad were silent. The concluding chapters from Priam's expedition to Achilles camp onwards were as great as anything Homer-related that I have ever* read. I very much look forward to the print edition in the near future.

*I am a confessed Iliad nut, in that I have read Robert Fagles' "The Iliad", Stephen Mitchell's "The Iliad", Madeline Miller's "The Song of Achilles", Rosemary Sutcliff's "Black Ships Before Troy" and Alberto Manguel's "Homer's the Iliad and the Odyssey: A Biography" in recent years. So all of the above is not exactly unbiased.
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LibraryThing member emanate28
I liked how it drove home the point that these enslaved women were objects, things to be given and used as if they were not people. And as Briseis herself says, it is Achilles's tale.

As a story that was recommended to me as showing the usually overlooked point of view of the women of these heroic tales...well, it was good. But I think having read Circe a few months ago spoiled its impact for me.… (more)
LibraryThing member RBeffa
My mixed and less than enthusiastic reaction to The Song of Achilles (which is more the song of Patroclus, truly) encouraged me to look for another book and take on the Trojan War, and there are many. I saw there was a new release that deals with Briseis, who caught my eye in Madeline Miller's book and was probably my favorite character. I liked this novel better than "The Song of Achilles". This book has a much narrower scope and I thought it was an excellent companion book and I also think if one were to read one or the other I would recommend this over Song of Achilles. This is a retelling of The Illiad without all the men's glory and with all of the ugly grit, and mostly from the perspective of women, Briseis in particular.

A review was just posted on May 31 that praises this novel and says it much better than I could.
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LibraryThing member HendrikSteyaert
Makes you wonder about all the other "heroes" that so many people worship.
LibraryThing member N.W.Moors
The book was marketed as the story of the women in the Trojan War. It's really the story of Briseis who caused the big split between Achilles and Agamemnon. Any other women only make brief appearances and Briseis doesn't have much of a story. It's really the story of Achilles which makes this kind of a marketing fail.
The other problem is the anachronistic speech; many of the Greeks speak as if they're in Cockney London and use a lot of modern expressions you wouldn't find in a book about the Trojan War. When Achilles is saying 'Mummy' and 'For god's sake,' it really takes away from the story. The writing was okay, but the book is a disappointment. There were other women, Cassandra, Helen, Andromache, any of whom have richer stories and could have spoken for the women. I think I'm being generous in giving this 3 stars, and now I'm looking for Miller's Song of Achilles to read; Circe was fantastic.… (more)
LibraryThing member Zoes_Human
This was so much better than I expected.

I was expecting a simple retelling of the Iliad from a woman's perspective. I was not expecting something so realistic and feminist. Something that speaks to the truth of war for women. Something that makes it so clear how courageous women have always been in ways that are not acknowledged as such, but rather are portrayed as a sign of their weakness.

I loved it!
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LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
Briseis is a prize of battle, the battle which killed her brothers and husband and father, the battle in which Achilles led his Greek Myrmidons to victory over Lyrnessus, a liege-city of Troy. She is Achilles’ prize, his slave. She is also the catalyst for the great final tragic sequence of events in the Trojan war. It begins when Agamemnon takes her for his own on having to give up his own prize, Chryseis. Achilles is affronted by the slight to his honour and refuses to fight further for the Greeks until Agamemnon apologizes. It appears the war will now be lost, until Patroclus dons Achilles’ armour and leads the Myrmidons onto the field of battle to break the Trojan lines. Eventually Hector kills Patroclus. Achilles sets aside his dispute with Agamemnon to return to the fight and avenge Patroclus, killing Hector, knowing full-well that Hector’s death removes Troy’s last, best defence. And since Achilles’ own death has been foretold to occur before the fall of Troy, Hector’s death means Achilles’ death can’t be far off. Even if you tell such a tale from the point of view of Briseis, there is virtually no way for this not to be Achilles’ story. Silence, it is said, becomes a woman.

Against the heavy tide of story and character, Pat Barker marshals her considerable gifts as a lyric teller of historical fiction. Her Briseis is full of vim and keen observation, but not so much as to be anachronistic. She remains a woman of her time and there is no avoiding the custom of spoils in war. And compared to some, or many, Briseis’ lot is desirable. Late on we hear a young, rebellious captive declare that it is better to be dead than a slave, a foreshadow surely of the shade of Achilles’ opposite desire when encountered by Odysseus in the underworld. Briseis also chooses life. And despite Barker’s sometime claim that Achilles is a great criminal, we don’t actually see him committing dishonourable acts here. He does seem admirable, often kind, thoughtful, devoted to his friend, Patroclus, and capable of accepting his fate. Briseis comes to like him in spite of herself. Hate him too, of course, for killing her brothers (in battle). But respect him, certainly. Hence the difficulty. It is very hard to turn the narrative away from Achilles being the best of men.

Nevertheless, Barker’s Briseis story is compelling and thoughtful. It holds one’s attention and offers a wider view on the sometimes narrow story of the Iliad. But what lessons are we meant to take? The more real Briseis becomes, situated in her time and place, the less, I think, she has in common with women today. But I could easily be wrong about that.

Recommended.
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LibraryThing member Opinionated
Briseis is one of the most important characters in The Iliad. The captive of Achilles, she is stolen by Agamemnon, an act that causes Achilles to refuse to fight, but ultimately leads to the conclusion of the the 10 year war.

But of course, in the Iliad, she's not a character. She's a narrative device, much like the legendary Helen. She's important - but she doesn't get anything to say. In general, in The Iliad, women don't. Unless they are goddesses of course, and even then, not so much. The Iliad is a ballard of male pride, male stubbornness and male violence. Pat Barker sets out to give Briseis, Helen, Chryseis and the captured women of Troy a voice and a point of view

Its a great idea; and given that she is telling Briseis' story, rather than retelling the Illiad, Barker is under no obligation to stick to the Iliad's timeline, and so she doesn't. She starts her story with the capture of
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Pages

304

ISBN

0385544219 / 9780385544214
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