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The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller - Review

Saturday, October 27, 2018

I've had this book for ages, I think Janet sent me it in a Christmas swap a few years ago, but I've never picked it up. Then last year at my book club we were picking titles out to read. We like to read some library books, because we were born out of Penistone library and get a lot of support from them, so like to support them in return. We alternate between library books and buying books. I noticed that this was on the list of library books, so suggested it, knowing I had a copy which would be less demand on the half dozen or so library books.

It's the November book and I'll be leading the discussion, which is never very much of a job because there's around ten of us in the book club so we tend to bounce off each other. I don't think we've ever all liked a book so it's usually a very lively discussion. I love my book club; it makes me read things I'd never pick up and I like hearing other people's opinions (which is partly why I'm a book blogger!).

I have to say I wasn't entirely looking forward to this book, even though I chose it. I thought it would be dense and hard to read and would maybe go entirely over my head. But everyone I know who's read it - Janet included - has raved about it, so I thought I'd get ahead of myself for book club and read it now.

So basically, it's a retelling of the Iliad, only it starts much earlier than that. I'm not familiar with the story of the Iliad so I didn't have any spoilers as to what was going to happen, which I was glad about. The main character is Patroclus, a prince, who grows up with a somewhat cold and detached father. Patroclus accidentally kills a boy and is exiled from the kingdom; he goes to live with Achilles' father and becomes a close companion of Achilles. Achilles is the son of goddess Thetis and there are prophecies about him and his immortality.

The two boys go to the mountain with a centaur called Chiron, whose name Patroclus later adopts as his own name. There they begin a sexual relationship and Patroclus becomes Achilles' closest companion. But the idyll cannot last long - Achilles must join the other Greek kings and go to Troy to retrieve Helen of Sparta, who has been abducted by Paris.

I had only the most basic idea of the story of the Trojan War, so I didn't realise it had lasted quite so long. I thought the narrative of the book dragged a bit, but the book did compel me to keep reading it because I wanted to know what happened. No spoilers here but I thought it was really well done. I liked the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles, but I felt like Achilles was a little closed off at times and I would have liked that veneer to fall a bit more.

Madeline Miller teaches Latin and Greek history and I think that really shows through. The narrative isn't dense at all. The speech patterns can be a little odd but I soon got used to them. I'm glad to have read this, I liked the reimagining of the relationship between the two men (an idea which is pretty old but told beautifully here). I would definitely read something else by the same author.


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