The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller

Another recommendation from Sian at our book group, who is sadly leaving to go to Dubai – who will make our cakes now (and provide insightful comments of course)?

When this was chosen there were comments like “I am not reading a girls book” due to the fact it won the Orange prize, however it was generally enjoyed across the board with two members giving it ten out of ten, unheard of in book club history! Not everyone agreed, with debates about whether her style was not very sophisticated and with others arguing that in fact it is deceptively simple and in fact extremely accomplished.

This is a retelling of Homer’s tragedy, The Iliad.  Achilles is a demi-god destined for military glory and tragedy, whereas Patroclus is the narrator and lover of Achilles who has no desire to be in a soldier but is swept up in war. When the beautiful Helen (the face that launched a thousand ships) is abducted by the Trojans, this begins a ten-year war between the Greeks and the Trojans which threatens the lovers’ future.

This book is a great way of getting an introduction to Greek mythology and has inspired me to go and look at the Iliad and the Odyssey.  Unfortunately, as much as I enjoyed this book at the end I found this really had to get into at the start, it was only after about 40% (you can tell I read that on a Kindle), when the battle against Troy starts that I started to enjoy it).  I will say in the Kindle’s defence that the dictionary element was great and enabled me to look up and find out that Troy is now believed to have been situated in Turkey.

Miller has decided to focus on the possibly homosexual relationship between Achilles and Patroclus and the relationship between these two is presented in a moving way, especially in the final chapters, although you do wonder if they are a couple who are bit too right on and modern.  The battle scenes are excellent and there are some truly shocking and upsetting moments in the book.  If you can get through the first part this is a book worth reading.

 

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