21 February 2012

The Song of Achilles; Madeline Miller

The Song of AchillesThe Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's always interesting (to me, anyway) to read alternative versions of stories - think Wide Sargasso Sea or Durrell's Alexandria Quartet. This is a version of The Illiad, told from the perspective of Patroclus, the beloved friend of Achilles.

Exiled from his home, stripped of his name, ugly and awkward, Patroclus joins the Phthia household of King Peleus, father to Achilles, the Aristos Achaion ("Best of all Greeks"). Patroclus becomes Achilles friend, much to the disapproval of Thetis, Achilles' sea nymph mother; together they train, play and when Achilles is sent to Chiron for training, Patroclus follows.

Then - surprise, surprise - Paris steals Helen from Meneleus, taking her to Troy. Meneleus' brother Agamemnon gathers the Greeks (most of whose kings/princes swore to protect and defend Helen's choice of husband), in 1,168 ships ("one thousand ships" sounds better to the bards, according to Patroclus) and sets sail. War ensues. Achilles lives up to his billing as the greatest Greek warrior while Patroclus makes himself useful as a healer. And (is this a spoiler?) after ten years, Achilles and Agamemnon fall out, Achilles refuses to fight, Patroclus impersonates Achilles and is killed, Achilles kills Hector in revenge, Paris kills Achilles...

Getting the viewpoint of Achilles' best friend (and lover) means we see the war from an outsider's perspective. Patroclus loves Achilles, but can see the overwhelming pride and hubris and fears for the future. He knows that his role in history is going to be minor, and after death is prevented from joining Achilles in the underworld because no one will carve his name on his tomb. The author has made the choice to not use anachronistic language, which lends the story a certain tone that honors the source material.

ARC provided by publisher.

1 comment:

  1. Now this sounds wonderful! I also love retellings of this type, from a minor character's point of view. (Although, come to think of it, I absolutely hated Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead). Have you read Lavinia by Ursula LeGuin? It's a retelling of the Aeneid from the point of view of Lavinia, and it's beautiful.