The Song of Achilles, written by Madeline Miller and originally published in Great Britain in 2011, won the prestigious Orange Prize (now the Bailey’s Prize) for 2012.
“Madeline Miller has a BA and MA from Brown University in Latin and Ancient Greek and has been teaching both for the last nine years. She has also studied at the Yale University of Drama, specialising in adapting classical tales to a modern audience. The Song of Achilles is her first novel.”
Although I read this notation before commencing to read the book it is only now that I truly appreciate how apt these few lines are in describing the author’s background to this book.
As the name suggests, it is a historical novel, written in the first person. I immediately had doubts as to whether I would enjoy it or even wish to read on. However, by the end of the first page I was captivated by the empathy that was established for both the baby, whose story it is, and the mother.
The first chapter is short and the scene it establishes, is quickly left behind in the next chapter where the boy is nine years old and somewhat of a misfit as a Prince in the Greek society of the time. Patroclus ‘ story moves rapidly throughout the entire book. It is also an insight into Achilles who shares centre stage. Although Achilles is the hero, and I believe his name is more well known to most of us, the author establishes a growing empathy to Patroclus and for me, a growing dislike for Achilles.
The weaving in of Greek mythology, particularly the forbidden friendship and intimate same-sex love between Patroclus and Achilles is written in such a way that the reader is almost spellbound. What a wonderful way to gain an understanding of a unique culture whose belief in the potency of the Gods and their intermingling with humans is so convincing and keeps the reader riveted.
The writing is so very straight forward and descriptive and although detailed, every word is needed adding to the vivid pictures the author is able to create. The story shifts to other locations and islands but culminates in Troy where the people live behind an impregnable wall.
I liked the morality and kindness that underpins the character of Patroclus and also the possibility that spirits need to be put to rest. As the number of pages left to be read became few I could not see how the author could possibly write an ending. However, the end did come and was so very satisfactory to all, especially for the outrageous Goddess Thetis who had caused her son Achilles so much anguish and directed so much hatred and spite to Patroclus.
I would rate this book as up there with the best.
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