Join Madeline Miller to talk about THE SONG OF ACHILLES, November's Book of the Month, on Tues 4 December, 9-10pm

(105 Posts)

It is non-stop prize-winners this autumn... November's choice is the 2012 Orange Prize-scooping THE SONG OF ACHILLES by Madeline Miller, a hugely enjoyable, rip-roaring tale that zips along with great pace. Miller has taken The Iliad and reimagined it through the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, his best friend. All the set pieces are here: Helen choosing a husband, the gathering of kings to go to war, the fight for Troy, the death of Hector. And all the familiar faces too: cruel Agamemnon, cunning Odysseus, vengeful goddess Thetis. But the truly epic nature of this novel comes from the relationship that grows between the two young men, first as young boys, then as adolescents and finally as lovers. Even though the story is as old as the hills, Miller's imaginative power gives it a rollickingly fresh approach. Gloriously good fun.

Our book of the month page has lots more about THE SONG OF ACHILLES and Madeline, including our 50 copy giveaway...

If you're not lucky enough to bag one of those, you can get a Kindle edition or paperback copy here

We are thrilled that Madeline will be joining us to discuss the book and answer any questions about THE SONG OF ACHILLES, the Orange Prize and her writing career on Tuesday 4 December, 9-10pm. See you there...

HullyChristmasgully Wed 07-Nov-12 09:15:50

The Song of Apollo <snigger>

I've got this too <massive sulk>

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 07-Nov-12 09:20:58

Duly amended! Have you read The Song of You Know Who, then, Hully?

HullyChristmasgully Wed 07-Nov-12 09:28:40

You forgot the one in bold... <double snigger>

HullyChristmasgully Wed 07-Nov-12 09:32:31

No, I haven't read it, it's been sitting around looking at me for some time. But others have jumped up and down waving their little booky arms and been read first...

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 07-Nov-12 09:52:26

Well, g'wan, read it now and then you can join in the discussion. <wheedles>

HullyChristmasgully Wed 07-Nov-12 09:56:27

I'll try. But you know how when books have been sitting around for a while you start to develop a resentment and unreasoning prejudice against them because they have become a reproach? I'll get some therapy.

Pinkforever Wed 07-Nov-12 13:01:53

I love this book-probably my favourite read this year! I got it when it was the Times book of the week.

My question to the author is-did you always intend for the main love story to be a same-sex one?

Can I just say again-I LOVE this book!! hurry up with the next one please....

DuchessofMalfi Wed 07-Nov-12 13:26:40

Like you, Hully, I bought a copy ages ago (on my kindle) and it has sat there being ignored. But I'm going to read it now, well after I've finished the book I'm currently reading grin

Badvocsanta Sun 18-Nov-12 18:03:33

Oh, I read this a few months ago!
Loved it.
I will admit to only buying it because it was a kindle daily deal blush but I was very pleasantly surprised.
The author has managed to retell (I will not use the term reimagine!! smile) one of the most well known story in history and make it seem new and fesh.
We all know what happens to Patroclus. We all know what happens to Troy.
And yet...this book kept me turning the pages.
Recommended!

Badvocsanta Sun 18-Nov-12 18:04:01

Yes...do hurry up with the next one! smile

An interesting review in the Guardian from a while back, which gives a bit more insight into how and why Madeline wrote the book...

Hully, thought you might enjoy the Daniel Mendelsohn quote, a digested read digested...

My question might be rather like the one at the end - which Greek classic should I be reading? When I was little I was obsessed by Greek and Roman myths. What with Mary Beard's webchat and this, I'm all ready to go back there.

HullyEastergully Tue 20-Nov-12 08:12:29

I 've just finished Helen de Witt's The Last Samurai. Will get to Achilles.

The Last Samurai is SO GOOD.

HullyEastergully Tue 20-Nov-12 08:28:20

I know it's not very helpful but I could do you a digested of that?

elspethmcgillicuddy Tue 20-Nov-12 15:39:50

Ooohh! I too have had this on my kindle (since it was the Daily Deal blush). I've been wanting to read it since before then though- since I heard Madeline Miller talking about it on Women's Hour ages ago. This will give me a little kick to actually start reading it!

Gigondas Tue 20-Nov-12 15:44:52

How did you balance using some very old myths with bringing your own story ? Your Achilles is quite different to the man in the illiad.

Loved the book- have read it twice , the second time when I was particularly stressed and unhappy and have found it gave me a great deal of comfort.

Badvocsanta Tue 20-Nov-12 16:47:37

Not sure I am brave enough to try and read the Iliad.
I remember reading quote which I think was from the Iliad many years ago in a book by Clive James:
"Husband, you are gone so young from life and leave me in your home a widow. Our child is still but a little fellow, child of ill fated parents, you and me. HOw can he grow up to manhood?.....And you have left woe unutterable to your parents Hector, but in my heart above all others bitter anguish shall abide. Your hands were not stretched out to me as you lay dying. You spoke No word that I might have pondered as my tears fell night and day"
It has stayed with me all these years....
His father was killed in WW2 when he was an infant. He never knew him.
Amazing that a book written so many centuries ago is still so relevant to so many.
There truly is nothing new under the sun.

gazzalw Wed 21-Nov-12 18:33:12

Did anyone get a copy of this?

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 22-Nov-12 10:29:53

gazzalw

Did anyone get a copy of this?

The publisher says the copies were posted yesterday (Wed) so should be arriving any time from now. Just under two weeks to read it before Madeline Miller chat.

DuchessofMalfi Sat 24-Nov-12 10:40:09

I finished reading it last night. Absolutely loved it. Will think of a question to post later.

jennywren123 Sat 24-Nov-12 10:53:05

I received one in the post this morning. Thank you Bloomsbury and Mumsnet!

gazzalw Sat 24-Nov-12 11:25:51

Thank you I got a copy this morning just now grin

lilibet Sat 24-Nov-12 15:21:58

Got mine this morning - thanks!

thehamburglar Sat 24-Nov-12 20:55:59

Got mine! Thank you grin

WomanlyWoman Sun 25-Nov-12 20:26:47

I started reading it today and dropped it in the bath shock, it's currently drying out on a radiator. At least it wasn't the kindle edition.

Clawdy Mon 26-Nov-12 13:07:16

Mine arrived!really pleased. Thanks smile

The chat with Madeline is just under a week away (Tuesday 4th December, 9-10pm), so time for all your advance questions please...

Thanks to all who have posted q's already (and thanks particularly to Badvocsanta for the beautiful quote)

Odd to think that our war in Afghanistan is over 10 years long, an epic siege of sorts. I wonder if it will ever be written about in the same way.

ShadeMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 27-Nov-12 16:54:13

In the interests of spreading great links - Madeleine Miller joined Jenni Murray on Woman's Hour in May, shortly after winning the 2012 Orange Prize. You can hear the clip here. It's the first item on the show so no need for scrolling.

Belo Wed 28-Nov-12 13:50:21

I've just received mine. I'm realistic about my time and I don't think I'll get it read for next week... Its a book my Dad also wants to read so he may borrow it and join the discussion on my behalf. He has a bit more time than me!

Thanks for the link Shade, I'm going to listen to that before I start the book.

modernbear Wed 28-Nov-12 14:12:57

Received a copy on Monday. Thank you. Really getting into the story. Found Madeline's website quite interesting and useful.
www.madelinemiller.com

CockBollocks Thu 29-Nov-12 16:28:42

I am loving this book so far - not enough time for me to read it sad I wouldn't be able to put it down if it wasn't for the pesky children!!

A reminder that any advance questions should be up here by this weekend please, and I will send over to Madeline so she can kick off with her answers first thing on Tuesday evening.

Don't worry if you haven't finished the book, everyone welcome to join in whatever stage you're at - and with this one particularly, we all know what happens so no chance of a spoiler...

DuchessofMalfi Fri 30-Nov-12 09:01:30

Embarrassingly I had forgotten the story of Achilles, Patroclus and the Trojan Wars - school was a long time ago blush.

I suppose my question to Madeline Miller would be - did you imagine that your readers would come to your book with prior knowledge of The Iliad or did you think that your novel made the story more accessible and would lead readers back to The Iliad? Either way, I think it works, and I loved it.

I hadn't thought of wanting to read The Iliad, but now think that your novel has made me want to do so.

lilibet Sat 01-Dec-12 11:41:56

Hi Madeline.

Thanks for coming onto mumsnet and thank you for writing such a wonderful book. It made me sob :-) Sadly I'm not around for the webchat on Tuesday but have a couple of comments and questions for you.

I have very little knowledge of Greek Mythology, all I knew before was about Helen, the horse and that Achilles had a heel and some tendons! I now want to read The Iliad, is there a translation that you would recommend which is more accessible than others?

As I started the book I fully expected to read about Helen's kidnapping, was she happy with Paris, did she go willingly and to have a full descrption of the Trojan Horse episode. When I got further into the novel I didn't mind at all that that was bypassed, as I only cared about Achilles, Patroclus and Briseis's story. Did you decide that Helen's back story and the horse were irrelevant, or did you put them in and then take them out, or (hopeful) are you leaving those particular threads for another novel?

Thank you again

Lilibet

lilibet Sat 01-Dec-12 15:31:32

Tillybookclub I had no idea what happened [uncultured emoticon].

FairyArmadillo Sat 01-Dec-12 21:56:18

Beautifully written. Just read Lilibet's question and realized that as aware as I was that Helen, Tojan horse etc were part of the story in the end I didn't really care. It was all about the lovestory of Achilles and Patroclus.

Are you planning to write any more stories based on mythology, and which other authors inspire you?

lilibet, you're right - I didn't know the final details either. I guess I meant that its a famous war story where not everyone gets to go home (attempting to make that obscure enough to hide spoiler!)

Thanks for all the questions, I will send to Madeline now - do keep putting them up here as it gives us more time to get through more questions...

See you Tuesday, 9pm

TaggieCrimboBlack Sun 02-Dec-12 16:14:17

Just finished this. V much enjoyed it. And I cried, despite expecting it to end like a greek tragedy.

DuchessofMalfi Sun 02-Dec-12 16:22:50

It made me tearful too. Very few books ever do that for me, the last ones being My Dear I Wanted To Tell You by Louisa Young (more tales of war - WW1 this time) and The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. Powerfully emotional reads.

Katisha Sun 02-Dec-12 18:55:18

I think it interesting the way the gods/demigods and co are depicted as if they are a normal part of society, or kind of. Thetis, Chiron...Was it tempting to explain them away, make them human, away rather than incorporate them as supernatural beings into the story?

ladydepp Sun 02-Dec-12 19:16:55

I LOVED this book, which really surprised me as it didn't seem my kind of thing when I was given it by a friend. I found it incredibly moving, really pacey and gripping. Two amazingly likeable characters with VERY different personalities. I confess I didn't know the story very well, but would read loads more classics if they were written like this!

My only very dull question is : When's your next book coming out and is it based on mythology too???? Here's hoping.....

HullyEastergully Sun 02-Dec-12 21:25:44

Half way through. THREE YEARS of longing looks at Achilles' shining hair and SHARING A BED before they finally get to it on page bleedin' 100.

Not like any poofters I've ever met.

HullyEastergully Sun 02-Dec-12 21:31:44

So far (and I'm prepared for things to change of course), I have absolutely no sense of Patroclus having any personality. He seems to exist solely as a vehicle through which to show Achilles. Frankly I'm struggling to see what on earth Achilles saw in him. Unless he was exceptionally well-hung...

MadelineMiller Sun 02-Dec-12 21:42:55

TillyBookClub

lilibet, you're right - I didn't know the final details either. I guess I meant that its a famous war story where not everyone gets to go home (attempting to make that obscure enough to hide spoiler!)

Thanks for all the questions, I will send to Madeline now - do keep putting them up here as it gives us more time to get through more questions...

See you Tuesday, 9pm

Testing.... I look forward to speaking with you all on Tuesday!

HullyEastergully Mon 03-Dec-12 08:23:51

Here is my question so far (please feel free to ignore my tasteless ramblings on homosexual practice, above): I am now at the war bit, (much more interesting than all the earlier yearning), and it occurred to me in the insomniac wee hours, that were it not for the writing (eg quote by Badvoc earlier), the whole episode would be nothing more than another tawdry Boys Own Punch-Up. Rape and pillage by one misogynistic violence-worshipping lot against another in the interests of land grabs and wealth. As it ever was.

Do you think that were it not for the beauty of Homer's writing (and the addition of a few gods here and there) elevating it out of the common war-lust realm, it would not have come down to us as a glorious tale of brave deeds and derring-do, but as another sorry tale of the greed, folly and violence of humans?

mmichellepfei Mon 03-Dec-12 18:49:57

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mmichellepfei Mon 03-Dec-12 18:50:21

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HullyEastergully Mon 03-Dec-12 18:52:44

I am going there RIGHT NOW!!

thehamburglar Mon 03-Dec-12 20:52:24

Hi Madeleine

I just wanted to say that I absolutely adored the book. I am too flu addled right now to think of any pertinent and penetrating literary questions but wondered if you could recommend a translation of The Iliad for those of us wanting to go back to the original.

As an aside, the novel made me think of Wolf Hall - the retelling of a tale centuries old as a personal narrative. Did you take any encouragement from Mantel's success (I read that TSoA took you 10 years to write)?

Thanks

Looking forward to Madeline's answers at 9pm - and just to add once more that everyone is welcome, whatever stage you're at in the book.

See you this evening.

gazzalw Tue 04-Dec-12 08:00:55

Haven't started I'm ashamed to say - just too busy this last week or so. But it seems to me that it's a brilliant way to introduce the Classics to a non-classically educated generation and to encourage them to seek out Classical tomes to fuel their interest.

HullyEastergully Tue 04-Dec-12 11:17:22

Finished now.

I can't remember much of the Iliad (Latin and Ancient Greek school days so long long ago), so I can't remember how much detail there is or isn't about Achilles', Patroclus' et al as personalities. I assume not much. Once you had decided on the frame for the retelling ie the relationship between A and P, did you then find yourself constrained by inventing personalities for them in the light of both lack of information, and the fact that the legends are so well known and hence you run the risk of constant sniping about your invention?

I ask this as I continue to feel that Patroclus in particular was insubstantial, I have no physical picture of him, nor much idea of him beyond him loving Achilles, being a bit good at wounds, and kind to Briseis. It was hard to feel for either he or Achilles as they remained out of grasp. In fact Patroclus was very irritating, just mooning about after Achilles. I found I wanted to shout at him to go and get a life.

Or were you staying closer to the original by focusing on deeds and events rather than psychological attributes?

HullyEastergully Tue 04-Dec-12 11:19:29

I won't be here this evening (fortunately, you think...), so I also wanted to add well done. It does indeed do what gazzalw says ^.

Badvocsanta Tue 04-Dec-12 12:43:13

Oooooooooh is it tonight?
Must try and stay awake! (Mother of young children alert!)
I really loved your book Madeleine and am recommending it to everyone I know...
Do crack on with the next one smile

Badvocsanta Tue 04-Dec-12 12:46:53

....oh, and I wanted to say that your book has inspired me to buy the Iliad and read it.
Thank you.

Janimoso Tue 04-Dec-12 12:55:50

Sorry guys, got to chapter 8, not too keen ended up switching to somehthing else :-/

HullyEastergully Tue 04-Dec-12 15:03:57

I have another question. I have been thinking a great deal about why the book felt so much like a book of two distinct halves, and I wonder if you felt more confident once you got onto the war and documented events rather than the invention of the early years, and also whether you waited (or it was suggested you wait because of our present day mores), for A & P to be "old enough" before their relationship became physical?

Badvocsanta Tue 04-Dec-12 16:08:10

Ah.
I have been spelling your name wrong madeline.
I do apologise blush
Hully...historically nobility and royalty were espoused and married off at a very young age. Something to do with high infant mortality and shorter life expectancy maybe?
Henry 8ths grandmother gave birth to Henry 7th when she was 13.
I think this would have been the same in ancient times?
Also, I don't think it unusual for young teenage boys to be sexually aware/active?
No point in ascribing current/modern thinking to a situation that happened thousands of years ago....

fifide Tue 04-Dec-12 17:03:13

Just here briefly to say I can't join in tonight but I am loving the book. Only half way through so far but all that in 2 days! I would never have chosen it without it being book of the month. Not my usual subject matter but am enthralled.

toni76 Tue 04-Dec-12 18:44:46

I totally adored this book - Madeline, thank you so much for writing it. And I read it before it was shortlisted and told all my friends to read it [smug face]
I have 2 questions
1) were you influenced at all by Mary Renault? She's my favourite writer of all time, and I thought I could hear echoes of her work in your book.
2) I thought it was really interesting that you made Patroclos unlikeable and not particularly warlike - my image of him from the iliad was of a more noble, heroic figure. Have I remembered my Iliad all wrong, or have you deliberately moved away from Homer's admittedly thinly sketched character?
and please, please, please write more.

Badvocsanta Tue 04-Dec-12 18:47:28

....and it was refreshing to read of breseis. She is such an integral character - she is used by Agamemnon to get revenge in Achilles - and this is the first time I have read much about her at all.
I would love to read your take on the Clytemnestra/Agamemnon and Odysseus/Penelope story!
<hint hint>

Badvocsanta Tue 04-Dec-12 18:51:30

Toni...I don't agree at all!
I think Patroclus comes across as very likeable in the book...kind, selfless, loving.
Do you mean he didnt come across as heroic?

jenniferanistonjenniferani Tue 04-Dec-12 19:00:48

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SunshinePanda Tue 04-Dec-12 20:16:30

Absolutely loved this book! I keep reflecting on the dynamics of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, and how the strength of their love and dependency on each other varied, as at times both seemed to need the other with a greater passion. I guess my question is as you were writing did you feel that theirs was an equal love and relationship despite of Achilles' status?

toni76 Tue 04-Dec-12 20:52:19

Hi Badvocsanta,
Selfless, loving yes....
but a bit whiny, a bit unfocused on his own life and his own honour. The outsider. I had thought of him as the shining, popular one; the counterbalance to Achilles' more complicated tortured, sulky genius...
In Miller's take Patroklos is the more tortured fella, for whom everything was filtered thru his relationship with Achilles'.
(this is not a criticism by the way, I loved Madeline's take, it was just different)

MadelineMiller Tue 04-Dec-12 20:58:59

Hello, and thank you all so much for reading my book! I look forward to answering your questions in the hour ahead. Here are two from Tilly and Mumsnet to kick the chat off:

1) Which childhood book most inspired you?

It’s hard to pick just one, because there were so many books I read as a child that shaped me, as a person, a writer, or something else entirely. I was absolutely bowled over by The Hunchback of Notre Dame when I was about twelve years old. Most of the book went way, way over my head, but the parts that I understood completely devastated me—Hugo’s visions of injustice and cruelty were overwhelming. I ended the book feeling like I wanted to pick up a (metaphorical) sword and fight for justice.

On a somewhat lighter note, I also loved Watership Down, which has an absolutely breath-stopping last hundred pages. I remember thinking: if I ever write a book, I hope it has an ending half as good as this.

2) What would be the first piece of advice you would give to someone attempting to write fiction?

Try not to spend too much time looking over your shoulder. Often writers worry about how certain people in their life might react to their writing: sometimes it’s a writer’s parents, or children, sometimes their friends. In my case, it was my professors, the very teachers who had encouraged and inspired my love of Classics. I was worried that if they knew what I was writing, they would absolutely hate it. In order to write the book, I had to very consciously set that fear aside and say to myself: okay, maybe this book will end up being a disaster, but I’m going to write it exactly as I think it should be written first, and then I’ll worry. Whatever those voices are that might be holding you back from your voice or vision, give yourself permission to ignore them. Also, the truth is that people often don’t react as negatively as we might think they will. When I finally worked up the courage to send the finished book to my professors, they were incredibly lovely and supportive.

Evening everyone

Well, here we are, the final bookclub chat of the year, and I feel it is only fitting that we are ending on one of the Greatest Stories Ever Told.

I am delighted that Madeline is joining us tonight from the US to talk about the research behind THE SONG OF ACHILLES, the epic ten year battle to get the novel written and the resulting victory in winning the 2012 Orange Prize.

We already have many questions to get through, so off we go...

Madeline, firstly, thank you very much indeed to taking the time to be here. And many congratulations on such a successful, hugely enjoyable book. We'll kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread. And then we'll aim to get through as many new ones as possible over the next hour (although getting through all the posts above may take a good chunk of that...)

I'd also like to add our two standard MN Bookclub questions (which we like to ask all authors):

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

Over to you...

Sorry, we've crossed posts already!

Will leave you now to answer the other questions...

Badvocsanta Tue 04-Dec-12 21:01:01

Hmmm...you see I don't see what is so glorious about Achilles at all.
He was spoilt, rich, arrogant and cruel.
Brave, yes. And I guess that's what counts in war, but I can't like him iyswim?
Whereas I liked Patroclus in the book...he was just...human. Frail and with fears and dreams like all of us.
Achilles has always seemed a very Unlikeable hero to me tbh...but then again I hate wuthering heights too (much to my english teachers dismay)Such awful characters! So little to commend them.
I think Patroclus could have been happy with breseis...but his love for Achilles doomed them both in the end sad
And was it just me or did the passion seem between them seem to fade towards the end of the book? The love was still there, but not the passion?

MadelineMiller Tue 04-Dec-12 21:04:42

Pinkforever

I love this book-probably my favourite read this year! I got it when it was the Times book of the week.

My question to the author is-did you always intend for the main love story to be a same-sex one?

Thank you for the kind words! And yes, the novel was always, from its earliest beginnings a love story between Achilles and Patroclus. I never considered writing it any other way. In the Iliad, Patroclus is an intriguing figure, both incredibly minor and incredibly important—we barely see him speak, yet he serves as the linchpin for the entire plot because his death is so devastating to Achilles. The question I wanted to answer was: why? What is it about him this seemingly ordinary person that is so important and compelling to Achilles?

MadelineMiller Tue 04-Dec-12 21:06:55

DuchessofMalfi

I suppose my question to Madeline Miller would be - did you imagine that your readers would come to your book with prior knowledge of The Iliad or did you think that your novel made the story more accessible and would lead readers back to The Iliad? Either way, I think it works, and I loved it.

The answer is really both. I very much hoped that people who loved Classics would engage with the novel, but I also was very clear from the beginning that I didn’t want this to be the sort of book where readers felt like they had to do homework before they could start reading. In the ancient world, these stories were for everyone, not just a particular group. I wanted to honor that in the way I wrote the novel.

Badvocsanta Tue 04-Dec-12 21:06:55

Madeline - as a writer do you think tortured/unrequited/doomed love is the best kind to write about?
Am thinking if books like yours (which I loved btw!) and others by the bronte sisters, jane Austen etc
Why do we love a love story that ends badly?

MadelineMiller Tue 04-Dec-12 21:07:59

lilibet

Hi Madeline.

Thanks for coming onto mumsnet and thank you for writing such a wonderful book. It made me sob :-) Sadly I'm not around for the webchat on Tuesday but have a couple of comments and questions for you.

I have very little knowledge of Greek Mythology, all I knew before was about Helen, the horse and that Achilles had a heel and some tendons! I now want to read The Iliad, is there a translation that you would recommend which is more accessible than others?

As I started the book I fully expected to read about Helen's kidnapping, was she happy with Paris, did she go willingly and to have a full descrption of the Trojan Horse episode. When I got further into the novel I didn't mind at all that that was bypassed, as I only cared about Achilles, Patroclus and Briseis's story. Did you decide that Helen's back story and the horse were irrelevant, or did you put them in and then take them out, or (hopeful) are you leaving those particular threads for another novel?

Thank you again

Lilibet

Thanks for your questions! In terms of translations, I think it’s very much a question of individual taste. My most honest recommendation would be to head to a good bookstore and read the first few pages of several different ones, and see which appeals the most. I often like to recommend the Fagles translation, which I think is quite strong, fairly literal, and includes a dynamite introduction about all things Homer by Bernard Knox. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I enjoyed Stanley Lombardo’s translation, which is less literal, but has a poetic forcefulness that is incredibly appealing.

As for Helen, part of what I have always found intriguing about her is how much of a mystery she is. We never quite know how much she wanted to run off with Paris, or what she’s thinking. The Greeks go to war in her name, but most of them have never seen her. I liked keeping her motives (and her face) deliberately veiled—as they would have been from Patroclus. So there aren’t any scenes of her that got left on the cutting room floor. Now, Hector, that’s another story….

MadelineMiller Tue 04-Dec-12 21:08:49

Katisha

I think it interesting the way the gods/demigods and co are depicted as if they are a normal part of society, or kind of. Thetis, Chiron...Was it tempting to explain them away, make them human, away rather than incorporate them as supernatural beings into the story?

To be honest, no! From the very beginning, there were always going to be gods in it. I knew I didn’t want to recreate an actual, historical Mycenaean Greece—instead, I wanted to try to summon what it would be like to live, realistically, in Homer’s world. And an integral part of that are the deities, who are at once fascinating and terrifying.

MadelineMiller Tue 04-Dec-12 21:09:28

ladydepp

I LOVED this book, which really surprised me as it didn't seem my kind of thing when I was given it by a friend. I found it incredibly moving, really pacey and gripping. Two amazingly likeable characters with VERY different personalities. I confess I didn't know the story very well, but would read loads more classics if they were written like this!

My only very dull question is : When's your next book coming out and is it based on mythology too???? Here's hoping.....

Thanks for wanting to know! Unfortunately, there’s no timeline yet on the next book but I am working hard on it. And yes, it is mythology-inspired. One of the characters I most enjoyed writing in The Song of Achilles was Odysseus, and I’m hoping to finish his story, while also exploring some of the amazing women of the Odyssey.

werewolvesdidit Tue 04-Dec-12 21:09:50

Hi Madeline,
I am 3/4 of the way through you book and I absolutely LOVE it. I am reading it slowly as I just don't want to reach the end. I was wondering if you had read Margaret George's novel about Helen of Troy? I also really loved it but in her version Achilles was a horrid spoiled brat smile Anyway, please, please write more Ancient Greek stories. Don't stop! I adore The Song of Achilles and desperately want to read more!

MadelineMiller Tue 04-Dec-12 21:11:02

HullyEastergully

Here is my question so far (please feel free to ignore my tasteless ramblings on homosexual practice, above): I am now at the war bit, (much more interesting than all the earlier yearning), and it occurred to me in the insomniac wee hours, that were it not for the writing (eg quote by Badvoc earlier), the whole episode would be nothing more than another tawdry Boys Own Punch-Up. Rape and pillage by one misogynistic violence-worshipping lot against another in the interests of land grabs and wealth. As it ever was.

Do you think that were it not for the beauty of Homer's writing (and the addition of a few gods here and there) elevating it out of the common war-lust realm, it would not have come down to us as a glorious tale of brave deeds and derring-do, but as another sorry tale of the greed, folly and violence of humans?

Hello, and thanks for this great question. What’s amazing to me about Homer is how I think he does get some of that greed and folly in there. It’s true that Homer’s world is often focused on glory, but I think it’s also impossible to finish the Iliad with the idea that war is a totally positive thing. He doesn’t flinch from the brutal, physical cost of war: the damage done both to families, and to individuals—weeping parents, mutilated bodies. Likewise, Homer doesn’t sugarcoat his main characters. Agamemnon and Achilles are both deeply flawed, and behave in ways that cause monstrous suffering.

But you’re right that the epic register of the poetry is mostly concerned with heroic, aristocratic male perspectives, which is part of what I wanted to address in this novel—Patroclus doesn’t naturally identify with that world, and is pulled into it only reluctantly by his love for Achilles. Because of this, he’s slightly more aware of things like the slow, grinding, cruelty of the raids that sustained the Greek camp, and the horrifying experiences of the women who are taken as slaves.

MadelineMiller Tue 04-Dec-12 21:12:25

thehamburglar

Hi Madeleine

I just wanted to say that I absolutely adored the book. I am too flu addled right now to think of any pertinent and penetrating literary questions but wondered if you could recommend a translation of The Iliad for those of us wanting to go back to the original.

As an aside, the novel made me think of Wolf Hall - the retelling of a tale centuries old as a personal narrative. Did you take any encouragement from Mantel's success (I read that TSoA took you 10 years to write)?

Thanks

Sorry to hear about the flu, and hope you’re feeling better. I absolutely adore Hilary Mantel’s work on Cromwell, and am frankly a bit glad that I didn’t start reading it until my book was finished—I might have been a bit intimidated!

Gigondas Tue 04-Dec-12 21:13:24

Are you finding that you are using the same patterns of research /writing for the new novel that you used on song of Achilles ? How has process of having done it once helped you?

Gigondas Tue 04-Dec-12 21:14:12

And have you read Mary Renault and did her style influence you at all?

MadelineMiller Tue 04-Dec-12 21:15:40

werewolvesdidit

Hi Madeline,
I am 3/4 of the way through you book and I absolutely LOVE it. I am reading it slowly as I just don't want to reach the end. I was wondering if you had read Margaret George's novel about Helen of Troy? I also really loved it but in her version Achilles was a horrid spoiled brat smile Anyway, please, please write more Ancient Greek stories. Don't stop! I adore The Song of Achilles and desperately want to read more!

Hello, and thank you for the kind words! I have read Margaret George's novel, and actually met the lovely woman herself. She got in touch with me because she was going to be in Cambridge, and we had lunch together. I didn't actually read her version of the story until my novel was completely finished--while I was writing I tried to stay away from other adaptations because I was concerned they might influence my thinking. One of my treats to myself when I was finished was getting caught up on all of those!

I've read in a previous interview that you wrote an entire first draft for five years and threw it all away to start again - are we allowed to know a bit more about that early version? Did you have major plot changes? What were the most important things that you altered?

Hello Madeline.

I know absolutely nothing of ancient history and it is a big gap I feel the need to fill.
Any suggestions what I could read as an introduction?

MadelineMiller Tue 04-Dec-12 21:22:33

toni76

I totally adored this book - Madeline, thank you so much for writing it. And I read it before it was shortlisted and told all my friends to read it [smug face]
I have 2 questions
1) were you influenced at all by Mary Renault? She's my favourite writer of all time, and I thought I could hear echoes of her work in your book.
2) I thought it was really interesting that you made Patroclos unlikeable and not particularly warlike - my image of him from the iliad was of a more noble, heroic figure. Have I remembered my Iliad all wrong, or have you deliberately moved away from Homer's admittedly thinly sketched character?
and please, please, please write more.

I am so appreciative for your early support! I'm often asked about Mary Renault, and the horrifying truth is that I hadn't read any of her books aside from The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea until after I was finished writing. Then, of course, I thoroughly enjoyed them! A few other people have mentioned that they see resonances between my work and hers, which I take as a huge compliment--and attribute to the fact that we were most likely reading the same ancient sources.

As for Patroclus' personality, I knew that I did not want him to come from the world of epic--part of what appealed to me about him is his outsider status, the way he's an exile, almost an hanger-on. He does have his own standing in the camp--in the Iliad, Menelaus notes that he was "kind to everyone" and Briseis famously describes him as "gentle." But I was struck by the fact that, in this culture that is obsessed with excellence, Patroclus seems happy to be in Achilles' shadow. Unlike, say, Ajax, who eventually kills himself over being named second best.

WomanlyWoman Tue 04-Dec-12 21:27:55

Hi, I have only very vague recollection of anything to do with Greek Myths from school. Wasn't sure if I'd like this but am really enjoying it, also feel I am being educated. Am about 3/4 of the way through and looking forward to cup of hot choc and bed to read some more in half hour...smile Also would love to read future work re women in myth. My question is, is this book giving me a grounding in Greek Myth or do I need to go and read some 'proper stuff?'

knitaholic Tue 04-Dec-12 21:28:12

Hi Madeline
I received your book as part of a set of Orange Prize nominees and was surprised at how different it was from the rest. It was easily the best and a justified winner. Did you anticipate winning a prize when you published the novel? How does this affect the writing of your next novel? I wonder if you feel under pressure to perform, and write to a deadline this time?

MadelineMiller Tue 04-Dec-12 21:30:33

Gigondas

How did you balance using some very old myths with bringing your own story ? Your Achilles is quite different to the man in the illiad.

Loved the book- have read it twice , the second time when I was particularly stressed and unhappy and have found it gave me a great deal of comfort.

Thank you so much, and I agree with you about the solace to be found in books. I have many old favorites that I return to in times of trouble.

When you’re adapting an ancient, known text, there’s definitely a balance to be struck between following the original and finding your own way. I tried to stay as close to Homer as possible in many ways, but I also kept in mind that the Achilles of the Iliad is an Achilles in extremis. The Iliad begins with a blow-out fight between Achilles and Agamemnon that threatens the thing Achilles holds most dear: his reputation. He’s literally given up everything else, including his own future, in service of his fame. So, we’re not exactly seeing him on his best day. And then, he loses his most beloved companion. But we do get some intriguing hints of another Achilles—an Achilles who plays the lyre and sings beautifully, an Achilles who longs to go home again, and who sees no reason to kill Hector until Hector does something personally to him. Part of what I wanted to figure out was: who is Achilles when he isn’t angry?

afussyphase Tue 04-Dec-12 21:36:13

I'm almost finished and I am really enjoying this book! (Thanks Mumsnet and Bloomsbury for the free copy, too smile ) I'm particularly enjoying that the book seems faithful to the (quite brutal) world in which it's set but Patroclus in particular retains a very human, sensitive, and real character which makes him likeable and makes the whole much more palatable - at least to me. He has a sense of ethics. I don't think I'd enjoy this nearly so much, for example, if Patroclus too had a primary drive for honour, glory, killing, status. For me this is a huge part of why this book is such a pleasure to read!
I guess my only question is: is this a balance that you aimed for or had to work towards at all, given the violent context, or did it emerge naturally as you developed the story and characters? I guess another question is: given that you acknowledge the quite harsh reality of women's lives, were you tempted to dwell on this aspect more (or perhaps dwell is the wrong term - to emphasise it more)?

afussyphase Tue 04-Dec-12 21:37:25

Ooh - just saw your last post. I have favourite books that I return to for comfort too. What are a few of yours, are you willing to share them?

MadelineMiller Tue 04-Dec-12 21:38:10

knitaholic

Hi Madeline
I received your book as part of a set of Orange Prize nominees and was surprised at how different it was from the rest. It was easily the best and a justified winner. Did you anticipate winning a prize when you published the novel? How does this affect the writing of your next novel? I wonder if you feel under pressure to perform, and write to a deadline this time?

I definitely did not expect to win. I was thrilled just to be shortlisted, especially since my fellow shortlistees are such incredible, brilliant authors. If you look at the video of me walking up on stage, you can tell that I'm hyperventilating!

When I write I put everything out of my mind but the story itself. Novels need privacy to grow (or, at least, my novels do), and if I was thinking about awards or expectations, I would never write a word. I am aware that there are certain hopes for my next book out there, which is of course lovely and flattering, but what's most important is for me is to do the story all the justice I can do, in my own way, in my own time.

MadelineMiller Tue 04-Dec-12 21:42:23

afussyphase

Ooh - just saw your last post. I have favourite books that I return to for comfort too. What are a few of yours, are you willing to share them?

Absolutely, I always love to talk about beloved books. I mentioned Watership Down in an earlier post, that's definitely on the list. At least once a year I reread Elizabeth von Arnim's amazing Enchanted April. Also, Vergil's Aeneid--its humanity, empathy and poetry always soothe and inspire me. Nora Ephron's Heartburn is another old favorite of mine. And I can tell that Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies will be new favorites.

Just quickly flagging up questions earlier in the thread from badvocsanta and Sunshine Panda - apologies if you're already onto them...

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 04-Dec-12 21:46:56

Madeline, we did Enchanted April in 2009 as a previous book of the month. So you're in company you approve of smile

toni76 Tue 04-Dec-12 21:47:03

Thanks for answering my question Madeline! - I think that Mary Renault's Hephaistion would recognise your Patroklos....
I will book the day off work and a shift-team of babysitters when your next book comes out smile

Gigondas Tue 04-Dec-12 21:49:08

Thanks from me- and good luck with next book

Calypso2 Tue 04-Dec-12 21:50:08

Hi Madeline, I've been following this webchat with interest. and also want to thank you for such a fantastic book. Like others here I was totally unfamiliar with The Iliad and loved the fact the book was so accessible despite this - I couldn't' put it down for 2 days. My favourite part and one that still stays with me were the scenes in the mountains with Chiron. I guess this was when Achilles and Patroclus were at their happiest and I just loved the domesticity of the scenes - and written so beautifully. I was so sad that Chiron never came back. Which part of the book are you most proud of?

MadelineMiller Tue 04-Dec-12 21:51:13

TaggieCrimbleBlack

Hello Madeline.

I know absolutely nothing of ancient history and it is a big gap I feel the need to fill.
Any suggestions what I could read as an introduction?

trishawisha

Hi, I have only very vague recollection of anything to do with Greek Myths from school. Wasn't sure if I'd like this but am really enjoying it, also feel I am being educated. Am about 3/4 of the way through and looking forward to cup of hot choc and bed to read some more in half hour...smile Also would love to read future work re women in myth. My question is, is this book giving me a grounding in Greek Myth or do I need to go and read some 'proper stuff?'

My apologies for putting both your questions together, but they seemed related! In writing the novel, I very much hoped that the book could serve as an introduction to Iliad, but the Trojan War stories are actually only a small part of ancient mythology. Fortunately, there are many wonderful novels out there that cover everything from mythology to history.

If you're looking for history, Mary Renault's Alexander novels are a great place to start. There's also Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean, which is told from the perspective of Aristotle and includes a fascinating portrait of the young Alexander. I also enjoy Robert Harris' books about Rome, in particular Pompeii, which is about the eruption of Vesuvius. Roman hydro-engineering has never been so interesting!

In mythology, I always love to recommend Zachary Mason's The Lost Books of the Odyssey, which is a terrifically clever alternate history of Odysseus' travels, and David Malouf's "Ransom" a retelling of the moving meeting between the Trojan king Priam and Achilles. I love Anne Carson's "Autobiography of Red" which is beautiful and brilliant and basically indescribable. On the Roman side, I don't want to leave out Ursula K. LeGuin's "Lavinia," a fascinating take on a previously silent character in the Aeneid.

And then there's Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad, and Christa Wolf's wonderful Cassandra. I could go on and on!

MadelineMiller Tue 04-Dec-12 21:54:04

Calypso2

Hi Madeline, I've been following this webchat with interest. and also want to thank you for such a fantastic book. Like others here I was totally unfamiliar with The Iliad and loved the fact the book was so accessible despite this - I couldn't' put it down for 2 days. My favourite part and one that still stays with me were the scenes in the mountains with Chiron. I guess this was when Achilles and Patroclus were at their happiest and I just loved the domesticity of the scenes - and written so beautifully. I was so sad that Chiron never came back. Which part of the book are you most proud of?

Thank you so much. I loved writing Chiron, and am so glad that that came across. (Also, speaking of mythology, I appreciate your chat handle!) I think the parts of the book that I'm most proud of are the ones that I struggled with and didn't give up on. It took me about forty drafts to get the Agamemnon/ Achilles confrontation scene the way I wanted it. Though now that I think about it, maybe the emotion is less pride and more like relief...

MadelineMiller Tue 04-Dec-12 21:57:41

SunshinePanda

Absolutely loved this book! I keep reflecting on the dynamics of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, and how the strength of their love and dependency on each other varied, as at times both seemed to need the other with a greater passion. I guess my question is as you were writing did you feel that theirs was an equal love and relationship despite of Achilles' status?

I did feel that way--and I think that Homer suggests that equality in Patroclus' appearances in the Iliad. He doesn't speak much, but when he does he address Achilles as an absolute equal, and vice versa. I was also touched by how domestic some of their scenes are together.

Yup, as GeraldineMumsnet pointed out, we've a soft spot for Elizabeth Von Arnim here too - Enchanted April is the literary equivalent of a hot water bottle, I think.

Wonderful reading recommendations all round, thank you for the inspiration.

Just a few minutes to go for any final answers, then we'd better let you go...

MadelineMiller Tue 04-Dec-12 22:00:10

Thank you everyone, so much, for the terrific questions. My apologies for not getting to all of them, and do feel free to drop me a line (via my website) if there's something you want answered! I feel very fortunate to have such thoughtful and lovely readers.

It has been a great evening - thank you to everyone for all their questions.

And Madeline, thank you very very much indeed, for all your energy and generosity in talking to us tonight. And for a wonderfully fulfilling and thought-provoking book.

Good luck with the next project - and please come and talk to us again when it comes out.

Many thanks again.

DuchessofMalfi Wed 05-Dec-12 08:15:17

A belated thank you to Madeline Miller for answering my question smile. I'm also struggling to fight off the flu virus, with not much success yet. I shall be looking out for your next novel and, in the meantime, filling in the big gaps in my knowledge of Greek mythology.

LineRunnerWithBellsOn Wed 05-Dec-12 08:28:34

I missed this book and this webchat, just coming across it via an email from MN.

I think I shall ask for it for Christmas.

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