I am not a big mythology fan so it was with some trepidation that I picked up The Song Of Achilles, a retelling of the Trojan War from the point of view of Achilles' companion Patroclus. Patroclus is a prince exiled from his kingdom for accidentally killing another boy who comes to live in Phthia with King Peleus and his beautiful son, Achilles. Achilles is of course destined to be the greatest warrior the world has ever seen. Growing up together, Achilles and Patroclus become close despite the disapproval of Achilles' mother, the sea goddess, Thetis. When Helen is kidnapped and the Trojan War begins, Patroclus must face the certainty of everything he has ever loved being taken away.
I couldn't have been more wrong about The Song Of Achilles. I thought it was going to be a stuffy read bogged down in mythological details but it was the opposite - it was a beautiful love story and a tale of how events can change and overcome people. Patroclus is a very self-critical narrator which endears him to the reader immediately and Miller does a fantastic job of showing the emotion and fear of falling in love for the first time. Her writing is just stunning, packed with description and emotional resonance;
"Had she really thought I would not know him? I could recognise him by touch alone, by smell, I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world."
I don't read much romance but I was utterly caught up in the love story of The Song Of Achilles. Rather than just showing the two characters falling in love, she also showed how that love changed as they grew up and as Achilles' desire for recognition overtook his other characteristics. I was so engrossed in the characters and the world of the book that several of the pages near the end moved me to tears. Even now, two days later, I'm still thinking about this book. Surely that's the sign of an outstanding book, one that doesn't fade from memory?
Although the love story is at the heart of The Song Of Achilles, the book is much more than that. For someone who only knew the basics of the Trojan war, I felt that Miller did a great job at making the mythology accessible. I particularly loved her characterisation of Odysseus as a smart, quick-witted trickster who is decent underneath. The horror of war is not shied away from and nor is the nastier side of human motivation. The Song Of Achilles is Miller's debut novel and I can say with certainty that I will read anything she writes next with high expectations.
I would recommend this book to anyone - it may be about Ancient Greece and the Trojan war but it's really about the human condition. Half Blood Blues is no longer my tip for the Orange Prize 2012.
Source: Library (reserved)
First Published: 2011
Score: 5 out of 5
* The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood - Retelling of the Odysseus myth from the point of view of long suffering wife Penelope. I read this one pre-blogging and recommended it to everyone I know.
I love reading these types of books and I do think a book that keeps you thinking about it when you are away or finished with it surely makes that a special read. Thanks for the great review. It's on my list!ReplyDelete
I think mythology might be a new interest for me now Annette! Hope you do get a chance to read it.Delete
It does sound good! I'm not much for mythology but when it is brought to life like this then they can really be quite remarkable stories. On to the wish list it goes.ReplyDelete
I'm generally not into mythology either but the mythology in this one was secondary to the human elements of the story. Hope you do get a chance to read it Trish.Delete
I'm going to ahve to read this, several people whose opinion I respect have said it's wonderful. I was a bit worried it was going to be one of those Iliad retellings with just too much crammed into it.ReplyDelete
Let me know what you think of it when you get a chance to read it. It's not a retelling of the whole myth (it ignores everything that doesn't happen to Achilles personally) so doesn't suffer with having too much crammed into it.Delete
Oh, I'm so glad to see that somebody else out there loved it as much as I did. I was utterly transfixed while reading it. I did a review of this last year when I read it and have kinda biding my time looking for other raves. And I agree--I think the Orange Prize might be in its future.ReplyDelete
I'm glad to see someone else love it too, this book has been seriously underrated and needs some more attention! I would love it to win the Orange Prize but then I haven't read Gillespie & I yet and that's got a lot of buzz around it.Delete
I'll see if my library has this as it sounds intriguing. I'm not hugely into Greek mythology either but feel I don't know enough and should try to learn more. This sounds like a good place to start.ReplyDelete
Cath, I only knew very little about the Trojan war before starting but it was all explained clearly and there wasn't too much depth to put off a beginner. Let me know what you think!Delete
You just had to add another title to my long list of Trojan War books to read, didn't you?! ^_~ReplyDelete
But I'm sure this is the best of the long list! :P
Well, at least it is a stand-alone title. I've avoided getting some until now because I didn't want to invest in a trilogy or anything more than one book for the moment.Delete
I'll be sure to share my thoughts whenever I get around to it!
What a beautiful quote! I was considering adding this one and now I am officially convinced. Thanks, Sam!ReplyDelete
The writing was just beautiful, it was one of those books that I read more slowly than usual so I could savour it. Looking forward to your thoughts on it Lindsey :)Delete
A new one for me but you've got me intrigued.ReplyDelete
Hope you get a chance to read it, Mystica. I think you would enjoy it.Delete
So much good things said about the book. I am daunted by Greek Mythology too! I was afraid it's going to be dense. I'll try to get this book from the library. Thanks Sam! JoVReplyDelete
I'm a beginner at Greek mythology (I did a little at school but couldn't remember it) and didn't find it too dense. The mythology was secondary to the human story. Let me know what you think of it!Delete
I'd decided to avoid this just because of the mythology... sounds like I definitely need to reconsider.ReplyDelete
To be honest, I wasn't looking forward to reading it because of the mythology. I only tried it because I'm trying to read as much of the Orange longlist as possible and my library had a copy of this one. Boy am I glad that I got that push to read it!Delete
I've heard great things about this one recently and everyone mentions how the love story is really well accomplished. Did it feel historically correct (as far as you can go with myths)?ReplyDelete
I enjoyed this one too, even though I didn't expect to. Thanks for the recommendation of The Penelopiad too. I know people have recommended it before, but I'm realizing now how much I enjoy retellings of myths. I also want to explore the Canongate myth series.ReplyDelete
This sounds like just the kind of book I would love. I used to have a major love affair with mythology when I was in high school and later in college. I'm "over it" these days, but a book that taps into the human condition can really be sweetened and made richer with a backdrop like the mythological. Cool! Thanks for a great review, Sam!ReplyDelete
I'm glad you enjoyed this one as much as I did!ReplyDelete
I've had this novel on my TBR shelf ever since it first came out. Must get to it now. I'm a huge student of "The Iliad" and own probably a dozen different translations. Thanks for the terrific review of the novel. Cheers! ChrisReplyDelete