The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Who doesn’t love Greek myths and stories? who doesn’t love the Iliad?… I do… it’s my favourite… in Italy it’s a huge part of the curriculum together with the Odyssey and the Aeneid… I studied it, read it, translated part of it, wrote essays and had exams… No matter how many times you read it you always find some new detail or imagery or turn of phrase…
Cantami, o Diva, del Pelìde Achille l’ira funesta che infiniti addusse lutti agli Achei…. this is how it begins, in Italian of course…
Anyway, Achilles is my hero. And Patroclus too… hard to choose between the two… Yeah, I know there are others… but Paris is an idiot, Hector… maybe… Ulysses thinks a pile of himself, Menelaos is a cuckoo, Agamennones, nah, never liked him… but in the end is all about Achilles for me; a couple of years ago I read the brilliant ‘The song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller, which rekindled the fire and so when I saw this latest Pat Barker novel I simply couldn’t resist it.
The novel tells the story from a completely different angle, it’s actually Briseis, Achilles’ slave who’s the narrator and it’s absolutely fascinating. She’s angry and bitter and sad… she does NOT like the Greeks, for the first time it’s not about glory and heroism, but exploitation and cruelty and the worst side of the war. It’s a story about defeat, rather than victory. Unusual, but for that reason utterly compelling.
I got a little cross with the dissing of my hero… but actually… it all turns out as it should…. it simply is a brilliant, well written novel. (I did get a little bit bored with the some of the negative descriptions and Briseis’ ‘feelings’, if I have to be honest, but it’s a minor niggle.)
Do read it. It’s fab. And if you’re in a book group it would spark great discussions. Just, just read it.