We’ve all heard of Achilles. The greatest of the Greeks and known for the slit heel that led to his downfall. However, we have never heard of the ones he was surrounded by during those brutal years of the Trojan war. This is what Pat Baker’s 2018 novel, The Silence of The Girls, aims to shine a light on by retelling the story of Achilles and the Trojan War from a woman’s perspective: specifically, Queen Briseis’ perspective. In this retelling, Briseis was the Queen of Lyrnessus who watched Achilles kill her brother and husband and ransack her city, taking everything he and his fellow Greeks could get their hands on. Just like the other valuable objects in the city, Briseis too becomes a spoil of war, who has a bigger part to play than history lets on.
Briseis is chosen by Achilles to be his bed slave and maiden and in doing so introduces us to a variety of characters including the infamous Patroclus -Achilles’ most trusted confidante and rumoured lover- and Agamemnon, the wicked and vile general of the Greek army, and of course the other women in the camp. What is incredibly interesting about this novel is its capacity to evoke an array of emotions, especially with so little dialogue. The age old and completely tasteless saying, “Women should be seen and not heard” is conversely what gives this book such emotional depth. The silence of the women in the camp is what makes them accountable witnesses of the atrocities of the war and what life was like in the Greek camp.
Baker uses intense imagery to immerse the reader into Briseis’ life at the camp, providing a clear image, which is wretched to say the least. This book is definitely not for the faint hearted or weak stomached as the depictions of the camp fall nothing short of vile and inhumane. With gruesome battles, violent bloodshed and at times extreme sexual violence, the picture painted is one of utter disgust. However, it is this detail in the scenes that make this novel so incredibly powerful. Establishing the setting in such detail is precisely what enables the reader to understand exactly what Briseis and the surrounding characters are feeling. You really become one with Briseis and start to empathise with every situation she is forced into.
It should also be noted that one of the most important factors of this book is its relevance to today’s world. Yes, this book was set it in mythological times, but does that mean that the disregarding of women’s roles in society is no longer an issue? What Baker so perfectly portrays is how easy it is for women to slip through the cracks of conflict and to be so readily ignored. Briseis plays a huge role in determining whether the Greeks will win or lose the war. She is the pawn in a power play that proves detrimental to the fate of the Greeks, however her legacy is lost in literature. I’m sure I am not the only woman who has read this book and felt a burning tinge when she is so easily overlooked, and that is what makes this novel so important.
To wrap things up, The Silence Of The Girls is an astonishing read that will have you laughing one minute and crying the next. The most important thing I can tell you about this book is that it will stick with you for a long time and will show you just how important every single person’s voice is, no matter how insignificant you may feel.
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