Sunday, June 2, 2019

Book Review - The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I have Homer’s The Iliad (Robert Fagle’s translation) on my TBR list and, having now read Miller’s novel, I have my interest piqued enough to want to push the Greek classic up my list.

Four years ago I read The Odyssey (translated by Robert Fagle) and loved it. I had watched and loved the 2004 movie “Troy” with Brad Pitt as Achilles and Orlando Bloom as Paris. So, going into this novel, I have some idea of who the gods and goddesses and heroes are.

The first third of the novel moved at a rather slow pace, focusing on the development of friendship and love between the boys Achilles and Patroclus. From the mid-point, the story began to pick up speed and was a page-turner till the end.

I won’t go into details about the plot, as most readers are familiar with it. What I liked most about the novel was the description of the whims of the gods as they meddled at will in the mortals’ affairs entirely according to whom they favored at the time. I thought this to some degree reflected the sense of fatalism in the real human world – humans in the end are incapable of controlling their destinies.

I especially liked the description of Thetis the sea nymph goddess – her imposing appearance, her blazing emotions and intelligent thoughts.

The central theme of this novel is the reimagining of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, giving it the homosexual twist. I was neutral to the idea. My only nit-picking was Patroclus’ fierce bravery in the final scenes (when he leads the Myrmidons in Achilles’ place in beating back the Trojans), which does not tally with his meek character as portrayed earlier.

I am aware that Miller’s writing has drawn a lot of high acclaim. But for me, in some places, the similes stretched the imagination a bit, and I blamed that for my inability to strike rapport with the main characters. Also, she tended to flip back and forth in the usage of past and present tenses. I didn’t see why that was necessary, as the narrative was fairly linear throughout.

All in all, it was an enjoyable read, and I’m giving it 3.3 stars, rounded down.

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