When I was a little girl I loved reading Greek myths and legends. So, I was thrilled when this book was named the winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012 and was quite keen to start reading the novel. I did enjoy the story and the rather unusual style and method that Miller employs to update a myth and classic history. It successfully transports you to another world and the interplay between the gods and the the Greek heros works well.
This is Madeline Miller’s first book and it took her 10 years to write. She has a BA and a MA from Brown University in Classics, so she certainly knows her subject. I suspect she would have had a bit of fun breathing fresh air into the old classic stories. Song of Achilles has a bit of everything, fast paced, lots of action, war and brutality and it is also the story of a deep loving relationship between two men.
The story focuses on Achilles and the Trojan wars but the real centre of the novel is Patroclus, a naive young prince who has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia for accidently killing a young boy. He befriends Achilles, who is everything Patroclus is not – the child of a goddess, a strong, good -looking warrior in the making. A friendship is formed that grows into a strong passionate love. Along the way we meet all kinds of wonderful characters and gods from Chiron, a centaur and teacher of men; Thetis, Achilles mother, who is a cruel sea goddess to the Greek heroes themselves, Odysseus, Agamemnon and Diomrdes.
I think this is a highly original take on a classic tale. I enjoyed the ancient world Miller created, the way she weaves the world of the gods into the everyday life. I enjoyed the description of the Trojan wars, the camp that became a town after ten years of fighting, the details of how the camp operated, the operation of command. It makes you feel as though you are immersed in the Trojan war yourself.
However, I did read The New York Times review by Daniel Mendelsohn (April 27, 2012) that stated in part ……..”The real Achilles’ heel of this book is tone – one made disastrously worse by the author’s decision to metamorphose an ancient story of heroes into a modern tale of hormones.”
So read it yourself and see what you think.