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The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller
Member Name: dee778
The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller
Advantages: An easy, engaging and informative read
Before I read The Song of Achilles I was pitifully ignorant of the Iliad. Like most people I had heard the names Achilles, Hercules, Paris and Agamemnon - but I couldn't tell you why, where or how. This novel turns the legend into a gripping modern love story.
Set in Greece in the age of gods and heroes, the story is told by the young prince Patroclus. Patroclus' awkward relationship with his royal father is blighted by disappointment. Patroclus is not a warrior, is not confident, is not popular and his father lets his disappointment show. Bullied by the other children, one day Patroclus decides to fight back and kills one of his bullies in a shocking and traumatic accident. Society and the royal court turn against the unpopular boy and he is exiled by his father to the distant court of King Peleus where he comes to meet and to live in the shadow of the King's son - perfect Prince Achilles. Achilles is everything that Patroclus wants to be; beautiful to look at, fearsome to fight, popular with everybody - Achilles is the golden prince. Part of Achilles success is his parentage - his mother is the sea nymph /goddess Thetis - and Achilles himself is blessed and helped by her god-like powers. His exceptional strength, beauty and invulnerability is due to his semi-divine birth, but the only vulnerable part of him is his heel - legend tell us this is after his mother dipped him in the Styx to make him invulnerable but held onto him by the heel, which remained as the mortal part of him.
The plot really takes off once Petroclus moves to the court of King Peleus. He is befriended by the beautiful Achilles who takes him as a companion and special friend. Spending every waking and sleeping minute together develops a strong bond between the two boys and as they grow and develop into young men this bond becomes something much stronger; a love that will last a lifetime.
The story of Achilles from this moment onward is dominated and shaped by his relationship with Petroclus; the loyalty of Petroclus as he follows his partner across the globe, through war and danger - and eventually into death. As the story plays out we meet all of the characters from legend, both heros and gods - all brought to life by Miller's enthralling story telling and eventually ending up with the Trojan War; the battle to end all battles in the attempt to rescue Helen of Sparta from the Trojan Paris. Petroclus follows Achilles through all his adventures; accepted as his companion and defended by Achilles from danger both in and out of battle. Achilles also has to defend Petroclus from Thetis, who is determined to separate the two and prevent the destiny that awaits them. Achilles destiny is to become the greatest and most powerful warrior of all time, but this fame and glory also brings tragedy.
I was unwilling to start this book, imagining it to be a dry and difficult read, but once I has started I was gripped and raced to the end. Madeline Miller is clearly an expert in her field, having studied and taught both ancient Greek and Latin, and the detail in the storytelling brings the ancient myths to life. The voice of Petroclus shines throughout with a subtle naivety and wonder that really engage the reader. The love story is completely believable and I can assure any slightly homophobic readers out there that the sex scenes are very tastefully written. The Telegraph described the book as "homoerotic slash fiction " but found this to be far from the truth; others have likened it more to Brokeback Mountain and I would agree with this in terms of the gentle affection portrayed. The character of Petroclus is the reason for both the readers' engagement with the story and the tasteful portrayal; sensitive and loyal, his adoration for the shining Achilles shines out through the book and turns what could easily have been a brutal war story and a voyeuristic love story into a charming tale.
I certainly learnt a lot about Greek legend from this book - in a very easy and enjoyable way. I always like a book that expands my knowledge as well as entertaining me - and The Song of Achilles ticks all the boxes.
Madeline Miller is an American novelist, born in Boston in 1978. She is well qualified to write about Greek Legend, having a BA and MA in Latin and Ancient Greek, but despite this, The Song of Achilles took her 10 years to write.
It is obviously Miller's passion, and although it was her debut novel it won the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012.
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks (12 April 2012)