Thursday, 2 July 2015

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Not every author has the talent to turn a story from Homer into a page-turning novel, but Madeline Miller pulls it off with aplomb, taking out an Orange Prize for her efforts. In that story, Achilles is predicted to be the greatest warrior of his era, but his glory will come at a cost during the lengthy war the Greeks waged on Troy when Paris abducted Helen from the Spartan king, Menelaus.

Never far away are the machinations of the gods, who set up Paris from the first with a beauty pageant where the handsome Trojan prince had to select from a line-up of goddesses. While the fickle hand of the gods steers the course of events, Miller’s novel brings Homer's characters to life, drawing out the reader’s sympathies for them.

She does this by choosing for her narrator, Patroclus, Achilles boyhood friend who later becomes his lover. Patroclus has had an unhappy childhood – a father who never thinks he’s good enough and a fey mother. When he is banished from his home to the island of Phthia, he thinks loneliness and disfavour to be his lot in life - until he meets Achilles.

The story of the boys’ friendship and their lessons with the centaur, Chiron, are enough to make an interesting novel. Throw in the politics of the Trojan War, the massing of armies, the fleets of ships and the assault on Troy and you have a terrific tale with a lot going on. But Miller makes the epic real and immediate, her writing is pitch-perfect and the intensity of her characters will stop your heart. The Song of Achilles is the first, I hope, of many such adaptations by this author.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Song of Achilles

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