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The Silence of the Girls: A Novel (Hardcover)
September 2018 Indie Next List
“The women in Homer’s Iliad hardly ever speak; we are not privy to their thoughts, feelings, or anguish as expressed in their own words. Until now. The Silence of the Girls depicts moments of the Trojan War through the eyes of the female captives at the mercy of the men who have slaughtered their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons, as they carve out new lives in the wake of war’s devastation. The focus of Barker’s novel is Briseis, through whose eyes we see, up close, the rift between Agamemnon and Achilles, the bond between Achilles and Patroclus, and the complex, beautiful support system the captured women weave together. Barker’s novel is a masterpiece of resilience, determination, fury, healing, and complicated, completely human characters.”
— Anna Eklund, University Book Store, Seattle, WA
One of The Washington Post's 50 Most Notable Books of 2018
One of NPR's Best Books of 2018
One of Vanity Fair's Best Fall Books of 2018
"An important, powerful, memorable book that invites us to look differently not only at The Iliad but at our own ways of telling stories about the past and the present."
--Emily Wilson, translator of The Odyssey
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.
About the Author
PAT BARKER is the author of Union Street, Blow Your House Down, The Century's Daughter, The Man Who Wasn't There, the Regeneration trilogy (Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road), Another World, Border Crossing, Double Vision, and the Life Class trilogy (Life Class, Toby's Room, and Noonday). She lives in Durham, England.
"Almost Homeric in its brilliance... Refreshingly modern... Ms Barker [switches] nimbly between the daily drudgery of the camp and the horrors of conflict... Venerable scenes and mythic names magically become new... Domestic details are piercingly described, bringing the squalor of the camp to life... A masterful and moving novel."
—Annalissa Quinn, NPR
“Well-written as anything Barker has done before…The Silence of the Girls is a novel that allows those who were dismissed as girls—the women trapped in a celebrated historical war—to speak, to be heard, to bear witness. In doing so, Barker has once again written something surprising and eloquent that speaks to our times while describing those long gone.”
—Bethanne Patrick, Washington Post
"A very good, very raw rendition of the Trojan War from the point of view of the women."
—Kate Atkinson, New York Times Book Review
“An impressive feat of literary revisionism that should be on the Man Booker longlist…Why isn’t Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls on this year’s Man Booker longlist? There are always going to be contentious omissions, I know, but Barker’s not only a veteran—she won in 1995 for The Ghost Road, the final volume of her magnificent First World War-set Regeneration trilogy—this latest work is an impressive feat of literary revisionism that reminds us that there are as many ways to tell a story as there are people involved…this is a story about the very real cost of wars waged by men: ‘the brutal reality of conquest and slavery.’ In seeing a legend differently, Barker also makes us re-think history.”
—Lucy Scholes, The Independent
"Evocative... The powerful story line is merely the framework; what make this novel so fascinating are all the interstitial details."
—John Greenya, The Washington Times
"This is an important, powerful, memorable book that invites us to look differently not only at The Iliad but at our own ways of telling stories about the past and the present, and at how anger and hatred play out in our societies. 'The defeated go down in history and disappear, and their stories die with them.' Barker's novel is an invitation to tell those forgotten stories, and to listen for voices silenced by history and power."
—Emily Wilson, translator of The Odyssey
"Brilliant, beautifully written... Both lyrical and brutal, Barker's novel is not to savor delicately."
—Library Journal, starred review
“In The Silence of the Girls, [Barker] now gives a voice to the voiceless…It is not generally known that the omission of Pat Barker’s Regeneration from the 1991 Booker shortlist by the all-male panel of judges was the trigger for the foundation of the Orange (now Women’s) Prize. Barker’s omission from this year’s Booker longlist is a decision equally lamentable, for The Silence of the Girls is a book that will be read in generations to come.”
—Amanda Craig, Daily Telegraph
“This book weaves strands from across Barker’s work, foregrounding female experience on a vividly evoked battleground.”
—The Sunday Times
“The Silence of the Girls is brilliant—fascinating, riveting and blood chilling in its matter-of-fact attitude toward war and those who are its spoils. I loved the book for its craftsmanship, as well is its wonderful evocation of the ancient world and the not-so-ancient minds of the people inhabiting it.”
“In graceful prose, Man Booker Prize winner Barker, renowned for her historical fiction trilogies, offers a compelling take on the events of The Iliad, allowing Briseis a first-person perspective. Briseis is flawlessly drawn as Barker wisely avoids the pitfall so many authors stumble into headlong, namely, giving her an anachronistic modern feminist viewpoint. The army camp, the warrior mindset, the horrors of battle, the silence of the girls—Barker makes it all convincing and very powerful. Recommended on the highest order.”
"There’s a bluntness to Barker’s prose that feels appropriate to this tale of women’s fates during wartime. But if it insists on the importance of bearing witness, it’s also about choosing life.”
—Mail On Sunday
"Wryly observant and wholly cognizant... Barker's retelling of some of the most famous events of The Iliad feels strangely relevant to today—displaced peoples, war refugees, abandoned women and children, sexual violence—and assures us that women's voices will be silent no longer."
“Amid the recent slew of rewritings of the great Greek myths and classics Barker’s stands out for its force of purpose and earthy compassion… Barker puts a searing twist on The Iliad to show us what the worst fate can be.”
—Peter Kemp, The Times
"The arrival of The Silence of the Girls couldn't be more apropos... Barker has a knack for capturing the voices of women in everyday life."
“Its magnificent final section can’t help but make you reflect on the cultural underpinnings of misogyny, the women throughout history who have been told by men to forget their trauma... You feel you are in the hands of a writer at the height of her powers, her only priority to enlarge the story.”
“A lot of these re-imaginings fall flat, but Barker’s new novel, The Silence of the Girls, is superb... It is as beautifully written as it is brutal in describing the blood-soaked horrors of war. It’s out next month and should have been put on the Man Booker longlist. Silly judges.”
—Robbie Millen, The Times
“If this book doesn’t win all the awards – I mean all ALL of them – it will be a travesty. Quite the most incredible thing I’ve read this year and I’ve read a lot of great books. Classic storytelling, amazing characters And such a lot to say about then – and now. Circe was a wonderful feminist romp and I loved it, but The Silence of the Girls is something else all together. For me, this is Pat Barker’s Handmaid’s Tale moment.”
—Sam Baker, author of The Woman Who Ran
“Barker’s innovation rests on the female perspective… Here she gives Briseis a wry voice and watchful nature… [The Silence of the Girls] hums with intelligence.”
"An extraordinary novel... [and] the current debate about power and control in sexual relationships makes it a very timely one. If this doesn't make every serious literary prize shortlist, I'll be very surprised."
—Alice O’Keefe, The Bookseller