The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker - review by Edith Hall

Edith Hall

Voices of the Spear-Brides

The Silence of the Girls


Hamish Hamilton 325pp £18.99

We should not be surprised that The Iliad, the definitive war epic, has attracted Pat Barker’s attention. She won the Booker Prize for The Ghost Road (1995), the final novel in her First World War trilogy, a monumental achievement that also included Regeneration (1991) and The Eye in the Door (1993). In their scale and scope, together these novels constitute fiction that equals the epic storytelling at which the Homeric poets excelled.

In her earlier novels, beginning with Union Street (1982), Barker explored the subjective experiences of working-class women. It is a commitment to recovering the psychological predicament of powerless women that propels The Silence of the Girls. The setting is the centre of Greek military operations outside the walled city of Troy, where women enslaved during the sieges of surrounding towns in Asia Minor are brutally herded into what Barker has no hesitation in calling a ‘rape camp’.

Her novel’s title seems to have been suggested by the notorious ancient Greek proverb ‘Silence becomes a woman.’ This was barked by the macho Greek hero Ajax at his concubine Tecmessa in Sophocles’s tragedy Ajax, in which he commits suicide after displaying symptoms uncannily close to those that would now

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