Shopping cart is empty.

Birchbark Blog

The Silence of the Girls

Louise Erdrich - Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Since reading Pat Barker's powerful Regeneration trilogy, I've been an ardent admirer of her work.  The Silence of the Girls, her latest novel, is extraordinary.  Ostensibly a retelling of the Illiad from the point of view of Briseis, captured queen and war prize of Archilles, the book seems more an artifact unearthed from time than a historical novel.  Barker's genius is to tell this story with such simple and direct poetry that it speaks truth.  Says Briseis "Great Achilles.  Brilliant Achilles, shining Achilles, godlike Achilles . . . How the epithets pile up  We never called him any of those things, we called him, 'the butcher.'"
     Every sentence is anchored in the senses.  The odors of women waiting in a hot tower to be murdered or enslaved by their captors.  The pathetic sight of slave women too old to be sexually used, asleep in burrows with the camp dogs.  The crackling sound of lethal infection beneath the skin of a wounded soldier.  The taste of watered wine.  The blunt disgust and horror of being forced to have sex with the man who has murdered your family.  The salty rapture of bathing in the sea.  Barker works with a lived poetry.
     At times this book reads as a moving commentary on our current ethos. 
     As Briseis unflinchingly recounts the daily murders and the shifting uses enslaved women are put to in the Greek war camp, she uses the survival bonds of hurt and seething women as a sort of chorus of disdain.  Men waste their power in idiotic quarrels over women, over honor, over nothing, while women desperately attempt to guard their children and live out their lives no matter how brutal.  One of Barker's great themes is how violence erodes the personality.  The stubborn pride of Achilles leads to the loss of his childhood love, Patroclus.  Meditating on the madness of Achilles' grief Barker refers to Strange Meeting, by perhaps the greatest poet/soldier of World War One, Wilfred Owen.  Over and over, Achilles enters an underworld of the war dead, Hades, searching, and 'then, as he probes them, one springs up and stares, with piteous recognition in fixed eyes . . . '  This is a line from Strange Meeting, in which a soldier meets the man he recently killed, as does Achilles.  He is haunted by Lycaon, the son of Priam, who scrambled up a river bank toward Achilles, greeting him with the word, Friend.  Achilles did not spare him, or think twice, and he is tortured by the enormity of his casual cruelty.

As powerful as this scene and so many scenes of male reckoning are, throughout this book, it is a book of women.  Women who bear their children in agony and raise them with infinite care, only to see their sons slaughtered off-handedly on the intimate field of battle.  Women who survive by exchanging warnings, gossip, information on how to handle men.  Women who, let us not forget in the nascent democracy that was Greece, had no agency, no power, who were chattel, who were silenced.  In Homer's gorgeous bombastic epics the men slaughter children and each other, they pout, they roar, they rage to the heavens, while the women take care of everything on earth. 

Oh dear, I forgot about Valentine's Day!  Oh well.  It is a truly brave fellow who will gift this book to his lady love.  And a woman among women who will get it for herself and pass it to a friend.

The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker. 









Canoe Family

Recent PostsRSS


Tags

coyote japan Education More Remarkable Trees Unnatural Disasters Stephen Salisbury Aza Ojibwe support knowledge Too Much Happiness William Trevor germany Peak Water Birchbark Books World on the Edge Bleak House Light in August Brown Dog Mankato Powwow Mohamed's Ghosts H2Oil show your love local economy Ice boarding school Up Late Again The Birchbark House Dartmouth buffalo Let's Take the Long Way Home Emily Johnson china Alan Weisman Book Review bill mckibben language revitalization customers thanks Czech Writer The Resilient Gardener plants monkey in a dryer adventure thank you friends leaves and snow Empire of the Summer Moon E.L. Doctorow spring Roberto Bolano Wolf Hall Botany Dogs favorite book Too Loud A Solitude Green Team gratitude The Game of Silence how good looking you are graphix Tree Houses Master Butchers Singing Club mississippi favorite dog Chitra Divakaruni NACDI:All My Relations Gary Clement anniversary Alice Munro This Green World Gryphon Press euphoria British Navy incarnation post holiday Interview The Blue Sky School Gardens Jim Harrison Ojibwemowin fresh water Keepers of the Trees Kabul Beth Dooley State Troopers cafe closing Tar Sands Our Knowledge Is Not Primitive Pembina neighborhood Keystone XL Video Poetry Minnesota Louise friends city of books twins 350.org Michael Jackson sweden The Ojibwe north dakota green Victory Gardens Makoons President Obama ireland The Farmer's Daughter tree books favorite tree birchbark house series Rare Books solstice, Thomas King Wastepaper Nemesis pilgrims Milkweed Press photography Aubrey/Maturin italy 2666 joy National Book Award Keeping Heart on Pine Ridge Anishinabemowin peculiar touches of green and gold book and dinner club health care reform Kate DiCamillo Crushing Books Remarkable Trees france Peak Oil Magers and Quinn The Transition Handbook Anton Treuer The Porcupine Year Hilary Mantel Love ptsd Philip Roth Afghanistan Canada devoted customers Minneapolis Catalyst The Wealth of Nature Native People Bill Moyers Journal Vic Glover Climate Change cafe Bohumil Hrabal Anishinabe Ha Jin S.C. Gwynne Gail Caldwell The Royal Prussian Library Small Bookstores as Commons Zombies Guthrie Theater Wendy Makoons Geniusz post holiday reads ependent Women and Trees Kenwood Gardens Chickadee gardens trees Patrick O'Brian Greenland Collective Denial Islam aquifer Easter Island Nero Population Native Arts Hillary Clinton the most romantic city in the world Fireworks The Round House

Archive