The Silence of the Girls is an imaginative and ambitious re-telling of The Iliad.
It takes a confident, not to say brave, author to base a novel on the greatest legend of Western culture, but Pat Barker has already created a highly regarded body of work and The Silence of the Girls will undoubtedly enhance her reputation.
The story is narrated by Briseis, concubine and slave of Achilles, a minor character in the original text but at the centre of the action in this re-telling. Barker brilliantly re-focusses the story to unveil and develop the roles of women in both the Greek and Trojan camps, and create a gripping and fascinating historical drama.
She carefully balances the sensitivities and psychological development of the characters to modernise the story whilst remaining faithful to the original. Most effectively, Barker describes Briseis’ experience from privileged Trojan noblewoman to captive and slave, drawing out the remarkable contemporary relevance of this ancient story, reminding us that, as ever, the winners write the histories but there are always alternative versions of events. And, that this depiction of an archaic, primitive society, which subjugates women and slaves – understandable 2000 years ago – is horribly similar to the lives of many people around the world today.