Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Back in the dark ages, when Tutu was in high school, I vaguely remember that we were assigned selected readings from the Iliad and the Odyssey.  If I read them, very little stuck, and I remember them as boring and without any meaning for me.  These were myths, legends, and everything happened so long ago, that what did it matter?  Now along comes Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles.  Would it change my mind?

Several members of my reading group on LibraryThing.com have praised this one so eloquently and loudly that I had to read it.  Still, I approached it with great trepidation.  In fact, I had downloaded the ebook through the library's program because I was sure I wouldn't want to waste a lot of time or money on this one.  I had a preconceived notion that Greek mythology wasn't going to cut it. So I didn't even open the downloaded book until I had only 3 days left on the check- out!! It was a race to the finish line to complete the story before the downloaded file expired, and it's now on  my list to purchase for my permanent collection.  I was so wrong and I'm happy to say so.

Madeline Miller's debut novel, winner of the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012, is an absolute knock-out.  From the minute I started reading, I couldn't put it down.  Written from the point of view of Patroclus, an exiled prince who becomes the companion of Achilles, Miller  treats us to a detailed, lavish view of life during the golden glory days of Greece. We meet those legendary figures from our high school anthologies: Odysseus, Agamemmon, Menelaus, and Achilles' mother the sea-goddess Thetis who despises mortals, and is especially antagonistic toward Patroclus.   Miller's writing brings all of them to life, showing their relations to events, and giving us new glimpses of the myths we remember.

The story follows Patroclus and Achilles as they apprentice themselves to the centaur Chieron, learning both survival and military skills. As they reach young adulthood, we get a ring-side seat at the Trojan war, when men of Greece, who had sworn a blood oath to rescue her, were called to Troy to rescue the fair Helen.  I can't really compare this telling to those of my mid 20th century high school curriculum.  I can only say it was a compelling story, told in a narrative that holds the reader's interest and presents the age old tale of the Iliad in a new and gripping version.  It even made me want to go find a good translation of the original to see where the story got started.  There's no doubt in my mind that it deserves all the hype and awards.  Highly recommended.

Orange Prize For Fiction 2012
Author: Madeline Miller
Publisher-Format:  Harper Collins, Ecco; epub , 352 pages
Year of publication: 2011 (UK)
Subject: Story of Achilles
Setting: Ancient Greece
Genre: mythology, historical fiction
Source: Public library download  but soon to be a permanent purchase for my personal collection.


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