Review: The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
The Silence of the Girls
by Pat Barker

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker is a wonderfully absorbing and intense read that presents the story of the Trojan War from the female perspective. The descriptions are incredibly vivid and it’s a fascinating story but I wish the author had fully committed to the female point of view despite the limitations this would have put on the narrative.


From the Booker Prize-winning author of Regeneration and one of our greatest contemporary writers on war comes a reimagining of the most famous conflict in literature – the legendary Trojan War.

When her city falls to the Greeks, Briseis’s old life is shattered. She is transformed from queen to captive, from free woman to slave, awarded to the god-like warrior Achilles as a prize of war. And she’s not alone. On the same day, and on many others in the course of a long and bitter war, innumerable women have been wrested from their homes and flung to the fighters.

The Trojan War is known as a man’s story: a quarrel between men over a woman, stolen from her home and spirited across the sea. But what of the other women in this story, silenced by history? What words did they speak when alone with each other, in the laundry, at the loom, when laying out the dead?

In this magnificent historical novel, Pat Barker charts one woman’s journey through the chaos of the most famous war in history, as she struggles to free herself and to become the author of her own story.


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Historical settings and stories of war are not something that have ever really interested me but I have always had a fascination with the Greek myths and the Trojan war in particular. I’ve probably been a little guilty of romantacising it and if I did I think it’s safe to say The Silence of the Girls very quickly dispelled these notions of noble heroes and battles fought in the name of love. The picture Barker paints is dirty, degrading and it has to be said depressing. The “heroes” Achilles, Agamemnon, Paris and even Odysseus are for the most part proud, violent and easily offended thugs.

However the focus of this story is not supposed to be on them. This is the story of the women who are caught up in this war between men. Told primarily from the point of view of Briseis, wife of one of the Trojan kings, the story follows her journey from young and noble Queen to a slave, nurse and pawn in the battle between Agamemnon and Achilles.

It’s a wonderful concept and the first part of the story makes from some gripping and intense reading. Suffice to say life is not easy for women in this time regardless of their position in society. Treated like possessions to be used or traded they are never really free. Their value is dependent on how attractive they are and only those who are young, beautiful and connected to a powerful man will ever have some kind of security.

The descriptions in this book are incredibly vivid and it’s very easy to imagine yourself there with Briseis. The battle at the very start of the book where Briseis’s husband and brothers are brutally slaughtered was especially vivid (and horrifying) but what stood out the most to me were the descriptions of the Greek camp with its casual violence, filth, smell and rat problem. I can very honestly say I’m glad to never have to experience it.

Unfortunately however, while it starts strong I felt it lost its way in the second part when Achilles point of view was introduced. He’s such a powerful and intriguing character that he seems to take over the story, pushing Briseis to the side, which to my mind defeats the purpose of the story. He is a fascinating character and there is something both troubling and tragic about him but this was supposed to be the women’s story and it felt like it became centered on him. His relationship with Patroclus, his grief, his vengence and his acceptance of his fate. It’s a great story but for me shouldn’t be the focus of the book.

What makes it more frustrating though is that the author brings in Achilles point of view then doesn’t use it to let the reader experience some of the key events. I often felt like I was with the wrong narrator. I wanted to be with Achilles when he goes up against Hector but instead we’re with Briseis. Similarly, we kind of miss the final big battle and only hear myths and rumours of what happened. I feel like if the author wanted to tell the story from the female point of view she should have committed to it, and yes we would have missed some key scenes, but we kind of did anyway. I would have preferred it if she’d brought in a different female perspective, possibly someone remaining in Troy.

The writing is however wonderful with vivid descriptions and a really intense feel to it. It’s often violent, disturbing and kind of gross but I became completely absorbed in this story and the world. My only complaint was the use of some modern slang in the dialogue which I found a little bit jarring. I do get what the author was attempting but the inclusion of phrases such as “cheers lads” and “gagging for it” didn’t feel natural and knocked me out of the story.

It is a brilliant version of the story and I loved that we finally got the female perspective on it. I just wish the author had committed to the idea a little more.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance review copy. All views are my own.

Book Review: Northwoods by Bill Schweigart

NorthwoodsNorthwoods by Bill Schweigart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first came across Bill Schweigart a few months ago when I spotted the Beast of Barcroft on NetGalley and couldn’t resist. That was the book that restored my love of horror and that love continues in Northwoods, the second in the series. Bill Schweigart really knows how to write an exciting and surprising narrative and this book takes horror to a whole new level.

Synopsis (Goodreads)

Some borders should never be crossed. From the author of The Beast of Barcroft comes a waking nightmare of a horror novel that’s sure to thrill readers of Stephen King and Bentley Little.

Ex–Delta Force Davis Holland, now an agent for the Customs and Border Protection, has seen it all. But nothing in his experience has prepared him for what he and the local sheriff find one freezing night in the Minnesota woods.

Investigating reports of an illegal border crossing, the two men stumble across a blood-drenched scene of mass murder, barely escaping with their lives . . . and a single clue to the mayhem: a small wooden chest placed at the heart of the massacre. Something deadly has entered Holland’s territory, crossing the border from nightmare into reality.

When news of the atrocity reaches wealthy cryptozoologist Richard Severance, he sends a three-person team north to investigate. Not long ago, the members of that team—Ben McKelvie, Lindsay Clark, and Alex Standingcloud—were nearly killed by a vengeful shapeshifter. Now they are walking wounded, haunted by gruesome memories that make normal life impossible. But there is nothing normal about the horror that awaits in the Northwoods.


One of the things I love most about Bill Schweigart is that for me he is a bit of an unknown quantity. Having read only one of his books I don’t have a feel yet for how far he’ll go or what he will do. No character is safe and pretty much anything can and will happen.

Northwoods starts in a similar way to the previous book in the series The Beast of Barcroft with the introduction of a new character, Davis Holland, and something mysterious lurking in the woods.

However while the Best of Barcroft was more of a creature feature with a lot of mystery over what if anything is in the woods it’s clear from the start that this time it’s something from myth and legend.  No real creature could be responsible for the level of carnage, so it’s more of a case of working out what creature is responsible and how to stop it.

There are a lot of local legends in the area and tales of missing persons going back years. A lot of these legends and stories are set out in this story and that makes for some fascinating reading. I have no idea if any of these stories are based on real legends but I imagine that they are.

While new character Davis Holland brings a different dimension to the team with his military experience I have to admit I still really love returning characters Ben and Lindsay. Ben is the everyman character with no special skills or knowledge who is thrown into exceptional circumstances. He’s probably more lucky a lot of the time than skilled and seems to have a natural talent for saying the wrong thing which brings a lot of humour to the story.

He also has the most incredible crush on Lindsay which considering he’s the wrong sex to be her type makes for an interesting dynamic between the two. Lindsay is definitely the more knowledgeable and practical of the two so has the upper hand as far as the relationship goes. They flirt a bit, argue a lot, he’s overprotective and she get’s frustrated with him but they do depend on each other. Their relationship changes and develops over the course of this book and it comes under threat a few times which was kind of worrying as they are definitely one of my favourite partnerships.

This story is a lot bigger and a lot more gruesome and violent than the Beast of Barcroft. The author has definitely stepped it up in terms of carnage and while I prefer slightly subtler horror story rather than a lot of blood and gore there are still some very creepy moments. What makes it even better is the unpredictability. No character is safe in this series and anyone could be lost at the most unexpected moment. There was one moment in particular which came out of nowhere and left me completely stunned. One of those “oh my god, he can’t do that can he?” type moments.

For the most part the pacing is spot on and while there are a couple of bits which are a little slow, the author does a fantastic job of building up the tension to a truly immense conclusion.

It’s not a perfect book but I would definitely rate Bill Schweigart as one of my favourite horror authors at the moment. I’m looking forward to more in the series to see where it goes next.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.