The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: November 2012 book of the month
An advance warning about November's book of the month: if you were unlucky enough to see the megabucks movie Troy, it is tricky to read The Song of Achilles without an oiled-up Brad-Pitt popping into your mind. Not such a hardship, but still distracting.
Once you get over that small hiccup, this year's Orange Prize winner is a hugely enjoyable, rip-roaring tale that zips along with great pace. Madeline 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.
What is astonishing is the way the Ancient Greece of myth and legend becomes a living, breathing reality. Gods and goddesses appear regularly, have conversations, play an active part in daily life - and this feels entirely normal. The boredom of a 10-year siege is made as tangible as the confusion and terror of battle. The expectations and rules placed on men at that time are explored from the perspective of Patroclus, the novel's peace-loving, non-violent narrator. And even though the story is as old as the hills, Miller's imaginative power gives it a rollickingly fresh approach. Gloriously good fun.
Book club discussion: Tues 4 December, 9-10pm
We are thrilled that Madeline will be answering your questions about The Song of Achilles, winning the Orange Prize and what she's writing next on Tues 4 Dec, 9-10pm. Please feel free to post your thoughts once you've read the book and any questions you have for Madeline.
About Madeline Miller
She was born in Boston, and grew up in New York City and Philadelphia. Madeline attended Brown University, gaining a BA and MA in Classics, and also studied at the Yale School of Drama, specialising in adapting classical tales to a modern audience. Madeline began writing fiction when she was in high school, and has been working on The Song of Achilles, her first novel, for the last 10 years. She currently lives in New England.
Read Madeline's biography.