In The Silence of the Girls, Booker prizewinning author Pat Barker gives voice to the voiceless characters of The Iliad.

We know the men – Agamemnon, Odysseus, Patroclus, Hector, Paris, the list continues. On the first page of Barker’s fourteenth novel, a Trojan queen named Briseis hears the war cry of the most famous and brutal of them all: Achilles.

After her city is ransacked by the Greeks, Briseis is captured, transformed in a moment from queen to slave, awarded to Achilles and left to mourn her dead family. ‘Great Achilles’, Barker writes in the novel’s opening lines.‘Brilliant Achilles, shining Achilles, godlike Achilles … How the epithets pile up.We never called him any of those things; we called “the butcher”.’

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

The men of The Iliad have no problem with expressing themselves, often in lengthy battleground speeches. Barker is interested in other conversations and stories left untold.What words did the women speak when alone with each other: in the laundry, at the loom, when laying out the dead?

One afternoon not so long ago, Five Dials took the train from King’s Cross to Durham to speak to Pat about the book. It was a sunny and optimistic day, but the conversation inevitably made its way towards the subjects Barker has examined with precision and care over the course of her career: the lasting damage of warfare. Her Regeneration trilogy examined the legacy of stress, trauma, dislocation and anger carried by a generation of First World War veterans.

From the twentieth century we eventually worked our way back towards the Greeks and the Trojans. But first it was important to clarify a tale about the beginning of her career.

Five Dials

I hear your husband plucked your debut novel, Union Street, from out of the bin.

Pat Barker

He was very, very supportive.

Five Dials

Did he actually fish through?

Pat Barker

Yes. I threw it into the bin. Under the potato peelings too.

Five Dials

And there wasn’t another version on a computer?

Pat Barker

I wasn’t writing on a computer, no.

Five Dials

So that could’ve been the end of the book.

Pat Barker

It was that close.That was a very big moment. It would be a trifling gesture now but it wasn’t in those days. He knew I was feeling very downbeat about it. But I always feel downbeat about my books. I’ve a great suspicion of writers who wake up in the middle of the night and admire their own genius. I just think: fraud.

Five Dials

You wrote three novels before Union Street. All went unpublished?

Pat Barker

That’s right. It was difficult but I always made it an absolute rule that if I got a negative phone call, or somebody sent a rejection note, I would just go on and finish the sentence I was writing. I might sort of howl after that, but only after that sentence had been finished. You’ve got to be like that.

Five Dials

Mercenary?

Pat Barker

It’s actually a pretty tough career.

Five Dials

Maybe after one rejected book a person would go on to the second. But after the second gets rejected, to go on to a third?

Pat Barker

I was getting more and more bloody-minded all the time. By the time I was writing the third I was very much writing what I wanted to write without any kind of references to the publishing industry at all. That’s not a bad attitude.

Five Dials

What was the first unpublished novel like?

Pat Barker

It was a slender, sensitive, middle-class lady’s book and that’s not who I am. It was writing that was admired at the time. And I thought: no.

Five Dials

How much dialogue was in the first couple of novels before Union Street?

Pat Barker

Probably less. The percentage of dialogue went up as I started to find my own voice.

Five Dials

With Union Street, you’re plunged into a world alive with voices.

Pat Barker

And they’re still alive. Not the specific characters, but women like that are still very much there. There’s this agonizing: could you possibly write working-class characters when you yourself are no longer working class? It misunderstands the nature of writing. You’re writing from a very deep place in your personality and possibly out of the sort of archetypes that were formed in your relationship with your family and people who had impact on you very closely.

Five Dials

I read your first book right after I read your most recent. I felt a tether between …

Pat Barker

You’ve a tidy mind, haven’t you?

Five Dials

I grabbed it off the shelf. Thankfully they were all lined up. I could go straight to the beginning. It felt like there was a line connecting the women in Union Street to theTrojan women. When did your interest in the Greeks begin?

Pat Barker

Much later. I would’ve said about five years ago. Actually, somebody pointed out that there’s a passage in Life Class where Elinor Brooke is describing the Café Royale and the way the atmosphere had changed in the first days of the First World War. She says the old men were all panicking because they thought their day was over and the young men were spouting things they had read in the newspapers. And the women had gone absolutely silent. She said it was like the beginning of The Iliad. When Agamemnon and Achilles are making these fantastic speeches and the girls they are talking about say nothing at all.

Five Dials

Behind those great figures are other voices…

Pat Barker

That are not being heard, yes.

Five Dials

When did you find your way to these voices?

Pat Barker

I had just read The Iliad and was astonished by that silence. The eloquence of the men, the absolute silence of the women they’re quarrelling about.

It’s interesting. Obviously by chance one of my neighbours two or three doors up the street happens to be an expert on Homer. I had no idea she was there. We met for a drink when she was told what I was doing. She’s a classicist. She said she was reading the original Greek at the age of fourteen. She was sitting in class, a little fourteen-year-old girl, absolutely outraged by this silence. To her it was just leaping off the page. I’m sure a perfectly nice fourteen-year-old boy would read the same scene and wouldn’t notice the silence. Men don’t hear women’s silences. They just complain about them yammering on.

Five Dials

Heroes – from the heroic Greek figures to the superheroes in films today – take up a lot of space. It’s difficult to peer around them sometimes.

Pat Barker

Yes. Agamemnon is definitely manspreading and mansplaining to the nth degree.

Five Dials

Why did you choose Briseis as the narrator?

Pat Barker

I wanted it to be about her, because, apart from anything else, the descent from being a queen to being a slave is so dramatic.

Perhaps it would’ve been nice to have another character who had been a slave in her previous life, but then there’s a little bit of that in Uza, who didn’t care whose dick was up her as long as she was living a comfortable life.

Five Dials

The range of femininity in the book is wide.

Pat Barker

And those women talking together are very much like Union Street. It’s the same kind of conversation between women.

Five Dials

The language between the characters is just modern enough. Or perhaps just universal enough. Were you looking for that effect?

Pat Barker

Those men can’t possibly have spoken in fifteen-page speeches. They would not have sat through each other’s speeches without interrupting after the first ten or eleven words.

The speeches on the battle eld are amazing. Because you can’t actually kill the bloke until you’ve established who his great-grandfather was. They give each other complete genealogies. There are two men who meet on the battle eld and discover that their grandfathers were guest friends, which is a very important relationship. They’d stayed with each other and automatically could no longer kill one another. Because Granddad and Granddad knew each other well. So, they avoid each other on the battlefield.

Five Dials

The first chapter rings with a modern sense too. I couldn’t help but think of Syria. The attack on a sun-baked city full of narrow lanes is about to begin. The sense of impending doom would be just like it is today. Is there a continuity that runs through all the novels you’ve written about conflict?

Pat Barker

Nothing happens in the book that is not happening in the contemporary world. Nothing happens in The Iliad that isn’t happening in the contemporary world, give or take changes in weaponry, which doesn’t make it worse. It just makes it different.

When we, say, look at what’s happening in the present, the danger is that people tend to think what’s happening in the present ‘out there’.

There are the women in the ISIS slave markets. But there are young women who are illegal immigrants in this country working for no money. They’re working for food and if they are sexually assaulted, which they very commonly are, they cannot go to the police. They can’t complain to anybody. In effect, these women are slaves. They’re being sexually abused. And that is in our society, not in others.

Five Dials

You don’t have to scrape away layers to find what’s relevant.

Pat Barker

It’s right here, yes.

Five Dials

In terms of primary documents…

Pat Barker

Well, there’s only one I’m looking at.

Five Dials

But in your career as a novelist you’ve conducted extensive research, whether it’s the primary documentation of war or the poems written after. Does this material make your job easier?

Pat Barker

Writing myth is much more freeing than writing history. You should not ideally have any anachronisms at all in history. Not the way I do it, anyway. People differ, people are prepared to bend history to various degrees, but I don’t. If Rivers and Sassoon [historical figures who feature in Barker’s Regeneration trilogy] are having lunch in the Conservative Club on Princes Street, that’s what they were doing. And Rivers chooses the boiled fish because he has ulcers. Did Rivers have ulcers? Yes, he did. It’s like that. Which is also stimulating. It’s writing in a strait-jacket, but that would stimulate your imagination.

The freedom of myth, the freedom to be naughty and deliberately anachronistic is also very stimulating and a relief after the other. After so many years of writing in a different way.

Five Dials

After so many years of adhering to this sense of history, has writing myth become a freeing, joyous writing experience?

Pat Barker

Oh, God, no. I was in agony over that book many, many times.

Five Dials

Did you feel freedom with your treatment of Achilles?

Pat Barker

There is an alternative of the myth that he’s shot in the back by an arrow. A poisoned arrow, possibly. Fired by Paris. A coward’s weapon in a coward‘s hands.

Achilles is amphibious. That’s what makes him interesting to me. If he were just a sort of copper-bottomed Bronze Age hero I wouldn’t be particularly interested. It‘s that ambivalence, actually a femininity, the fluidity of which underlies it all, which makes it interesting. I actually think he’s a fascinating character.

Five Dials

Is this the first time that you’ve looked at what could be called Stockholm Syndrome? This idea of a complicated love that arises?

Pat Barker

A very young girl, like Tecmessa when she was first bought, would suffer from Stockholm Syndrome because everything has been swept away. And there’s this bloke who‘s done it all. Nevertheless you cling to him. You convince yourself you’re in love with him; perhaps in a way you are.

Patroclus’s captive falling in love with him is a bit more comprehensible. I read something that said Patroclus in The Iliad is simply a plot device, but I don’t think he’s a plot device at all. I think he’s the ethical centre of the story. He‘s the only halfway decent guy in the whole bloody thing, and I think Homer represents him as that.

What I come away with all the time is an awe of Homer’s mind. Amazing, amazing writer, well not writer because he didn’t write, of course, but you know what I mean.

And, you know, I’ll probably get myself into all kinds of trouble with classicists because everybody is saying it was an endless number of people. And I think it wasn’t. One man wrote Achilles’s speeches. I’d go to the stake for that.

Five Dials

You feel that as a fiction writer?

Pat Barker

As a writer, yes. There are many other hands at work and you can see the internal contradictions which result from that. But the character of Achilles in particular is the creation of a single man.

Five Dials

Patroclus is not simply a plot device in your novel. You give him a rich, complex role.

Pat Barker

With a terrible past with his best friend.

Five Dials

The relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is one of the most intimate in the book. Not so much a gay relationship as we would know in our day and age.

Pat Barker

You wouldn’t recognize it as a gay relationship.

Five Dials

Intensely fraternal, but sexual in some ways. Emotional.

Pat Barker

Comradeship in battle. And two lost children finding each other in childhood. And possibly, or very probably, sex as well. It’s the intensely physical character of Achilles grieving which indicates there has been a physical connection.

Five Dials

Wanting his body.

Pat Barker

Wanting his body.

Five Dials

You’ve looked at trauma in so many different frames. Do you think trauma is different when you’re talking about the children of Gods?

Pat Barker

Does Achilles have PTSD? I think he does, actually, by most standards.There’s this book, Achilles in Vietnam by Jonathan Shay, which, in his clinical practice with PTSD, suffering veterans, he uses the story of Achilles, and he wrote a sequel called Odysseus in America about the difficulties of readjusting to civilian life. They are very astonishing books.

Yes, I do think Achilles’s moral behaviour does change after the death of Patroclus. He used to allow Trojan prisoners to live, sell them off into slavery or ransom them directly. And after Patroclus’s death he kills absolutely everybody quite ruthlessly, no mercy at all. That is a big change.

Five Dials

He’s plagued by some of those deaths. They come to him in his subconscious.

Pat Barker

He has nightmares; he can’t sleep, can’t eat. Maybe Gods get PTSD too.

I don’t know whether anybody else has ever remarked on this but the children of the Gods are a remarkably infertile lot. Perhaps it’s a way of limiting the interaction between the human and the divine. Helen has one daughter, Achilles has one son, and given the amount of sexual activity that is going on it’s really quite a remarkable outcome. They go on to marry each other and are incapable of having children. So, he has to go the Oracle of Delphi to ask for advice on what to do about it, and the priests of Delphi kill him.

Five Dials

How did you examine the sexual life of the narrator, Briseis? She has to come to terms with her new life as a sex slave. She’s a sex slave to someone who we equate with heroism, being played by Brad Pitt …

Pat Barker

The most beautiful man on earth at the time.

He has killed Briseis’s husband and her brothers and burnt her home.

I don’t think she’d be bowled over by all the male pulchritude in the bedroom. But I do think, too, that part of her getting pregnant is a sort of yielding to the possibility of something else between them. Because she always has this completely irrational idea that she will not get pregnant, probably because she didn’t get pregnant in her marriage. But it’s also that she thinks she can keep Greek sperm at bay. So it’s quite a shock when she becomes pregnant.

Five Dials

She turns from being someone who’s obviously traumatized, who’s kicking against being a slave, to something else.

Pat Barker

All the time she’s recovering a sense of herself, of who she is. Coming out of this almost-catatonic trance that she’s in to begin with.

Five Dials

You examine the casual ownership of women in the book too. A woman is a man’s prize. Now, she’s someone else’s prize. Was that something that was prominent enough in The Iliad, or did you make a point of it to imbue it with more importance?

Pat Barker

I thought about the special status of the prize women such as Briseis, because you think initially that the same disaster is befalling all these women. Actually, it’s not quite the same disaster. There are all kinds. The role of a person who was a slave and was perhaps being very badly treated in Lyrnessus before the Greeks invaded. Suddenly things are not worse for them. They may even be slightly better.

And there’s the very pretty girl who is a mistress and who is now higher in rank than her own mistress.

There are these two sisters who go for walks, heavily veiled and ultra-respectable, and they’re in complete denial about everything that’s happened to them.

There are the prize women, who are on a distinct level. They’re relatively privileged in comparison with all the other women.

Five Dials

But always knowing their prize status is not something that will last.

Pat Barker

You definitely don’t want to lose your looks. It can be taken away. Another prize can come in and take your place, and so on.

And Briseis very shrewdly says – though she goes on hoping – you’re not going to marry a slave. You’ve already owned the slave. You marry to forge an alliance with another royal house.

Five Dials

How important was the setting for you?

Pat Barker

I did not go to Troy. Apart from anything else, the ruins of Troy are now six miles inland. The bay is silted up, so the topography has changed completely, and when you get to Troy all that’s there is this very modern, huge wooden horse. I don’t feel I can justify going and sitting on the shores of the Mediterranean and saying, ‘I’m soaking up the atmosphere. Can I have it off my income tax, please?’

In the novel, the beach itself – that very enclosed environment – is enormously important. They are compressed, with the sea on one side, then the sand dunes, then a battlefield. It’s all happening in this very narrow, overcrowded and actually squalid camp.

Five Dials

The squalidness is tangible.

Pat Barker

The squalor and the riches. All these possessions, priceless possessions, all portable because they’re living in huts with inadequate sanitation, and all the rest it. It was very important to me that here should be a completely naturalistic explanation of the plague in the rats and the squalor.

Five Dials

Because the Gods are both there but not there?

Pat Barker

They’re there as little as possible. Apollo’s there and of course Thetis is there. I decided Thetis had to be there. Achilles is who he is because his mother was a goddess. And there are lots of mortal men who see their mothers as goddesses. They’re all a bit like Achilles.

Five Dials

How would you describe them?

Pat Barker

Narcissists. Too much self-adoration.

Five Dials

I’ve known a few of those guys.

Pat Barker

And adoration – the mixture of adoration and abandonment. Achilles is also an abandoned child.

Five Dials

You remind us again and again of the youthfulness of war. We forget about that these days, just how young these bodies are. In one section you brutally catalogue how these young Trojans die.

Pat Barker

How these young people died, and contrast that with what they meant to their mothers. I mean, it’s a cliché: ‘He’s some mother’s son.’ But that is not just me. Homer does this. Nobody dies nameless. Very few people die without having something recalled about them. Where they lived, where their parents lived, that kind of thing. Everything that is lost is given value at the moment it disappears.

Five Dials

Have we lost that?

Pat Barker

I don’t know that we ever had it. Homer had it. That’s part of his greatness: a very compassionate mind.

There were times when I thought, ‘How do you take the reader into a world which is so unimaginably different from ours in so many ways? ’And you do it through the body. Because the human body, as far as we know, has not changed or evolved in any dramatic way during our time.

It’s fascinating because there’s this legend – which is without real foundation – that the person who wrote The Iliad was blind. But actually I think he must have had quite a bit of military experience. Because he’s always describing what internal organs look like. He knows where the bladder is, he knows what the bladder does. He knows where the liver is, what the liver does and what it looks like. And he didn’t learn that at medical school or art college. There’s actually only one place he could have learned it. On the battlefield.

Oh, I’m offending the Classicists with every word. I’m sorry.

Five Dials

It doesn’t solely belong to them.

Pat Barker

It doesn’t. It belongs to us all. Myth belongs to everybody. It’s not the past, it’s now. History is then and myth is now.

Five Dials

I pulled up the cast list of Troy, the Brad Pitt film, and it’s so interesting after reading your book to see how a story can all of a sudden be tilted. How a minor figure can grab the microphone and tell her own story. After this book, it’s difficult to look at previous incarnations in exactly the same way.

Pat Barker

It’s a long time ago, that film, isn’t it? I mean, of course, there was Troy, an eight-parter on the BBC. I started it, but I think I found, well, it wasn’t entirely … conventional, I’ll say.

Five Dials

It must be tough when you’ve imagined it your own way.

Pat Barker

You don’t want to be confronted immediately with somebody else’s re-imagining.

Five Dials

Has writing violence become easier for you? This is a very violent book and the violence is dealt with in a way that is personal. Like you say, the names are listed. It’s an ongoing violence.

Pat Barker

They are fighting every day or almost every day. We’re spared what happens inside the gates of Troy. I think, actually, I’m more aware of my restraint in writing violence. I do tend to keep it at a distance. In Regeneration, for example, there are horrific things. If you just batter people with trauma, they switch off, they stop feeling, they stop thinking.You can’t afford to do that.You’ve got to have the violent episode [in Regeneration where Prior finds the eye], then you draw back and say, ‘What do we make of this? What do we think about this?’ But if he keeps finding eyes or other body parts on every page, people just go numb.

Five Dials

When you’re looking at the way the Greeks and the Trojans fought, there was no getting away from the humanity of the person at the other end of your sword.

Pat Barker

It’s all single combat. In the trenches, of course, there was remarkably little of that.

Five Dials

Now we are dealing with drones. We are dealing with far-away warfare.

Pat Barker

Drones are the ultimate end of a trend, which is that human beings have distanced themselves further and further from actual violence. Even a spear, of course, is at a distance. A sword is up close.

But even a sword, it’s not throttling somebody with your bare hands.

And it gets further and further removed. The long bow, the tank, further and further away. And whatever residual inhibitions about human violence we have as a species are rendered inoperative by the fact that you cannot see the person to whom it’s being done. So, it becomes violence without limit.

Five Dials

There’s a way of not having to feel anything after the outcome.

Pat Barker

Compassion fatigue. Although it is not so much out of compassion fatigue, but rather frustration at one’s inability to go on feeling compassion, or to feel anything at all.

When Briseis is thinking about the young men who die, she deliberately tries to stop it being a recital of what she calls ‘intolerably nameless names’ – which echoes Siegfried Sassoon. This is his prose. Give humanity to those people again, so they can have dignity and so they can be mourned. The whole of modern warfare is designed to make that almost impossible.

Five Dials

You explore the grief of Achilles. He’s bargaining with grief after the death of Patroclus. He’s trying to use his arsenal to deal with what we are all defenceless against. You write: ‘Grief’s only as deep as the love it’s replaced.’ Why was this aspect important for you to get across in this book, these poetic ways to grieve?

Pat Barker

I think it’s possibly a personal thing: my grief for my husband. But also you have to understand the depth and the trauma inflicted on Achilles by the death of Patroclus to understand the absolutely abysmal things that he does to Hector’s body and to Trojan men who have surrendered. It absolutely destroys him as an ethical being.

Five Dials

Wounds are so meaningful in this book. They have the potential to be mortal. You have great knowledge of wounds. One scene features someone pressing on a wound for the sound it makes.

Pat Barker

Gas gangrene. He’s doing exactly what people do in Life Class. Doctors in Life Class press for the crackle sound.

Five Dials

OK

Pat Barker

Ancient physicians knew absolutely everything about it. They didn’t have the modern arsenal of medicines to tackle it, but they knew.

Of course what I do, which is not in Homer, is deal with the wounded. In Homer, there almost aren’t any wounded.

In every war, the wounded outnumber the dead. And that is not acknowledged. It’s death or glory, which is the way it was presented in the First World War too. The lightly wounded, who were smiling and waving, and the glorious dead. And the person with arms and legs missing – forget about them. They’re bad for morale.

Five Dials

So, your addition to Homer is to bring in what would have been.

Pat Barker

It’s a typically feminine thing to do. The long-term consequences – which is what is typically dealt with by women, of course.

Five Dials

You personally knew a bit about that too from your grandfather? Is that true?

Pat Barker

Yes. He had a bayonet wound and when I was little, when I didn’t know about the First World War, I assumed that bayonet wounds were very common. In fact, they were only three per cent of the overall injuries. Because of course you didn’t have hand-to-hand combat very often. You didn’t get to the trenches to start doing that, because you were mowed down by machine guns long before you got there. Anyway, he did get a bayonet wound, and the guy who gave it to him was shot in the forehead before he twisted and withdrew, which makes it clean; a much cleaner, more survivable wound. It’s the twist that did the damage.

Five Dials

Would your grandfather talk about it?

Pat Barker

He never talked about it.

Five Dials

So, it was just something on his person that you would just notice?

Pat Barker

It was this absolutely horrendous wound. Quite unlike a surgical incision, as you would imagine. I asked him what it was, but I can’t remember what he said. He probably didn’t say anything. They didn’t. They didn’t talk about it. But it was a very good start for a writer: to have a wound in silence. You’ve got silence. You fill it.

Which is perhaps why so many families were haunted for so long by that war. There was so much silence surrounding it when the men came home. Even then they didn’t talk to one another. They enjoyed each other’s company. It helped, but it didn’t. They told jokes about the good times, but I don’t think there was much talking about the bad times. It just helped to be with people who knew.

Five Dials

And yet a wound is something you can’t cover up.

Pat Barker

It’s a continuing thing. My grandfather died of cancer. It was back in the days where people were not told they had cancer. It was absolutely unmentionable. So he asked the consultant, ‘Is this because the bayonet wound has started leaking on the inside?’ And the consultant said yes. He was having hemorrhages. So he died in his seventies thinking the bayonet wound had killed him.

Five Dials

Thinking that the war never ended.

Pat Barker

The war got him in the end.

We’d all been through another war by then, moved on long beyond that. It would’ve been nice if he’d known the truth. That it was something else. Or perhaps, I don’t know, perhaps he felt this sense of completion by thinking he was dying of his wound at last.

Apparently, Robert Graves had caught bits of shrapnel coming out of him for ever. They were just working their way to the surface: the body rejecting it.

Five Dials

A Vietnam vet I know said one day he was scratching his leg and this piece came out. And I asked, ‘Did you think about it? Where it is from?’ He said, ‘It could’ve been Czech, it could’ve been Russian, it could’ve been North Korean.’

Pat Barker

Could have been American.

Five Dials

Your body never stops trying to push these objects out.

Pat Barker

And there’s the mental side. My husband’s uncle was killed on the Somme. My husband’s father was in West Africa at the time. He wasn’t there when it happened. But when he was old and his mind was starting to go, he believed he’d witnessed his brother’s death. It was very, very vivid to him.

Worse than that, he mistook his wife for the soldier who was killing his brother and he started attacking her. And he had become a US citizen by this time, so he was a very American old man, still seeing something that happened on the Somme in 1916. And his poor wife, a tiny little bird-like woman.

Five Dials

Have you been approached by people who have said your writing has correctly depicted PTSD?

Pat Barker

One man at an event in Edinburgh said, ‘For the first time I understand my childhood. Because my father was such an overpowering, angry man and there was no talking to him. I think I understand my father now.’

Mainly, it’s people’s understanding of their family history, which in many cases, in many families, was deformed in ways which were not talked about, and still are not really talked about. Robert Graves said it takes three generations for the blood to run clear. That’s true.

Similarly with concentration-camp survivors, I think. You see even in their grandchildren the marks of it.

Five Dials

Hidden narratives, hidden histories and subtext.

Pat Barker

And silences. Silences, always. I mean the silence of veterans is equally compelling to the silence of those girls. Silence and absence. That’s where novelists work. History does the rest.

Five Dials

The book features moments of kindness and humour. There’s a great deal of sensual pleasure: the foods, the honey the grapes. Even war is not war all the time.

Pat Barker

And Briseis has a relationship with the sea which is very nourishing. It’s one of the things that she shares with Achilles.

Five Dials

They see each other on the beach.

Pat Barker

But they never speak. They’re just there.

Five Dials

Explain the Philip Roth quote at the beginning.

Pat Barker

What I liked was the idea that this is where European literature starts: two men quarrelling over a girl, and after that the girl saying nothing. That’s where it starts.

For men it starts with a quarrel. For women it starts with silence.

Those two responses are, as we know, quite different.

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