James Gault reviews The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Continuing this month’s theme of reviewing historical novels, I picked up Pat Barker’s reworking of Homer’s The Iliad. You probably have to know the basics of the original story to place the novel in context, but who isn’t familiar with the tale of the beautiful Helen of Troy stolen by Paris form her husband Menelaus and the subsequent great siege which ended with the mythological Trojan horse.
The book, however, is no ancient Greek epic poem; it’s a modern novel with a very powerful feminist undercurrent that explores misogyny and the fate of women in a culture dominated by men. The writing style is contemporary which serves to emphasise that the many and varied views presented on the role of women are meant to be not just historical revelations, but pertinent comments on how women are treated today.
Real lovers of historical novels may well be disappointed in this book because it doesn’t seem to capture the feel of the period. It is not really historical fiction but the retelling of a celebrated myth from a new point of view. But above all it is comment on how many men think and behave even today.
I felt sorry and angry for the women in the story, and at the same time disappointed that thousands of years had resulted in so little progress in the underlying prejudices against women. Pat Barker gives us an excellent and engrossing story but above all a biting criticism of men through the ages.
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