Wednesday, January 2, 2013

THE SONG OF ACHILLES by Madeline Miller


The concept, a retelling of The Iliad, appealed to me, but I found the execution lacking.  It's partly a love story between two men, and partly a story of war, but the intrusion of centaurs and visible goddesses just seemed out of place to me.  Since I haven't read The Iliad, maybe I'm not in a position to judge, but my guess is that the fantasy aspects work better in the original.  That said, this work, even though based on a well-known legend, needs to stand on its own, and that's a shaky prospect, at best.  The narrator in this novel is Patroclus, Achilles' lover and confidante.  Achilles is everything that Patroclus is not—beautiful, graceful, and unsurpassed in his skill as a warrior.  (Of course, Achilles is genetically blessed, since his mother is a goddess.)  Patroclus doesn't envy Achilles; instead, he worships him—so bedazzled that he tends to overlook Achilles' flaws, including an ego that destines him to die young.  As we get to know both men, we discover that Patroclus is really the better man in all the traits that matter.  The only human female character, Briseis, appears in the second half of the book.  At Patroclus's urging, Achilles saves her from Agamemnon's brutality, and she becomes as dear to Patroclus as Achilles, though not in a sexual way. My real problem with this book is that nothing much really happens until the last 50 pages or so.  Where is that Trojan Horse to liven things up?  Or perhaps the author could have added more depth to the odd triangle of Achilles, Patroclus, and Briseis.  Instead, we have the Greeks spending ten years raiding Anatolian farms, while camped outside the walls of Troy.  Yawn.

1 comment:

Terry Kitay said...

Patti - We continue to bat 1.000 - I LOVED "Song of Achilles." I didn't find it boring at all, and I appreciated learning the story of the Illiad in a more accessible format. Thanks for bringing to my attention! --Terry