Updated: Jan 12, 2019
With The Song of Achilles Madeline Miller gave the reader a glimpse of the world of Homer’s epic poem The Iliad, through the eyes of Patroclus. Pat Barker tells a similar tale with Silence of the Girls, only this time we are looking through the eyes of Briseis, With Briseis as the narrator, the reader is able to see the war not only from a woman’s perspective, but from a slave’s perspective. We witness the horror and brutality of the war from the injured and maimed casualties who are continually streaming back from the battle in a never-ending parade. We see the filth and dirt of the Greeks’ camp. The sickness from the plague that burns its way through the camp, killing its victims in a way that makes death on the battlefield a much more preferable way to die for the common soldier. In short, we see the Iliad in a very different light. This light, however in no way diminishes the ancient poem. Barker’s prose is beautiful, her writing gorgeously descriptive. Maybe a bit too descriptive when it comes to the chapters dealing with the plague. We almost feel the agony of the soldiers emanating off the page. One major difference with Barker’s novel is the rare appearance of the Gods. In the Poem the Gods are continually interfering, aiding, rescuing their favourites. Barker seems to let the Gods take a back seat with her novel and focuses on the more human aspects of the war. Particularly Loss. With this novel, Barker hones in on the loss and anguish experienced by the major characters. Achilles’ loss of Patroclus, Priam’s loss of Hector. These are deep heartbreaking emotional losses. Losses that an immortal God cannot, on a human level, truly experience. The Iliad is one of my favourite stories and I love all of these modern retellings. Barker has done a wonderful job of telling this story from the perspective of a character that, although integral, hardly speaks in The Iliad. Brilliant! 4.5 Stars.
Pat Barker was born in Thornaby-on-Tees in 1943. She was educated at the London School of Economics and has been a teacher of history and politics.
Her books include the highly acclaimed Regeneration trilogy Regeneration; The Eye in the Door, winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize; and The Ghost Road, winner of the Booker Prize; as well as seven other novels. She's married and lives in Durham, England.
f you are a fan of The Iliad and are looking for similar retellings like this novel. I would highly recommend. THE SONG OF ACHILLES by Madeline Miller. It tells the story from Patroclus' perspective and is a wonderful book.
Another great book is Colleen McCullough's THE SONG OF TROY. It is a more realistic interpretation of the war. What makes this book stand out for me is the structure of each chapter being narrated by a different character. It works extremely well and is another great read.
I am just about to start RANSOM by David Malouf which I am ashamed to say that I have not read yet. David is another Australian author and I have heard that it is very good indeed. I will post a review upon completion.
There is a wonderful interview with Pat Barker talking about The Silence of the Girls here - https://www.waterstones.com/blog/the-interview-pat-barker-on-the-silence-of-the-girls