Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The Song of Achilles

Title: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
Pages: 368 (paperback)
Published: April 12th 2012
Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing. As they grow into young men their bond blossoms into something far deeper — despite the displeasure of Achilles's mother. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned.

This story is set around the time of the Trojan war - about 3200 years ago. Greece was just a series of small, independently ruled kingdoms, and they waged war on the heretofore unbeaten city of Troy. Here we see the story of Achilles as he grows up and fights in this war. There are gods, goddesses, demi-gods and centaurs abounding in his journey with his best friend Patroclus.

I wasn't really sure what to expect from this book. What I knew about Achilles before reading it can be summed up in two (very short) sentences: Fabled warrior who fought against Troy when Helen ran away with Paris from whom the phrase 'Achilles heel' was taken. His heel was apparently his only vulnerable spot after his mother dipped him in a river giving him immortality, but held him by his heel as she did so.

Literally, this is everything I knew about Achilles before I started reading, most taken from the film Troy, and quite a lot only a myth - I doubt that he was immortal or a half-god. He was just a great warrior and myths abounded about him at the time.

This story is about Achilles, but less about his life than about his life with Patroclus. It is Patroclus who we first meet, and through whom we see Achilles. They pretty much grow up together from when they meet at age 10, and their relationship is definitely something wonderful.

Miller has obviously done her research - and as a lecturer of Ancient Greek you'd definitely hope so too - and seems to the know the story as it is recorded very well. The personalities of all the characters come through clearly, and there is always some level of logic to their actions. There is a lot of ancient Greek pop culture/mythology stuff thrown in there, but you never feel overwhelmed by it. Stories are told to demystify characters which would have been household names at the time, and gods and mythological creatures get the same treatment without unnecessary depth.

It covers a rather hefty length of time, 28+ years all told, but it skips over the unimportant parts very quicklys and focuses on those times where things actually happen, and all in all is written in a way which was very easy to read. I can't really pinpoint why, but I never had to work at reading it particularly. No, it wasn't the most gripping book in the world, but it was interesting and there were some places where it was definitely a page-turner.

As I said before, this book is really all about Patroclus and Achilles. It is wonderful seeing them grow up together and grow closer through their life together, and the end is a little bit heat-breaking. The depth of their feeling for each other is wonderfully portrayed, even if there is some question as to the exact nature of their relationship in actuality. You can see the ways in which they help each other, how they help each other to be better in so many ways and how they are utterly devoted to each other.

An interesting book, and something I'd easily recommend.

No comments:

Post a Comment