Published in 2012, The Song of Achilles
won the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction. Based on Homer’s Iliad and the siege of
Troy, it reimagines the story through the eyes of Patroclus. As a boy prince,
he was exiled to Peleus’ kingdom following his disgrace after the killing of a
nobleman’s son. I read this book for my Book Club and I found myself hooked
quite early on and enjoyed seeing life from Patroclus’ perspective. It did not
worry me that Achilles’ thoughts were largely a mystery as that seemed appropriate
for someone with his parentage. The son of Peleus and the goddess, Thetis, Achilles
grew up to be the supreme warrior but was shown to have human faults. The story
centres around the growing friendship and love between Patroclus and Achilles.
Dealing as it does in the land of Myths
and Legends, it would have been easy for the book to become two dimensional. Miller
merges the world of man and the gods seamlessly and within the context of the
story, I was able to believe in the events which could have seemed like
fantasy. As young adolescents, Achilles, with Patroclus goes to be tutored by
Chiron, a centaur, as preparation for his destiny as one of the greatest Greek
warriors. This section seemed logical within the story and never absurd. The
descriptions of the caves and the mountains are detailed and believable.
I personally found the depiction of
Thetis, the sea nymph to be the most moving part of the book. Her rape by
Peleus at the behest of the gods had produced Achilles. It had been prophesied
that her child would be greater than his father. The gods feared this and made
sure that his father was mortal and no threat to them. Her whole existence
after this seems to be to try to protect him so that he can fulfil his destiny through
her strength and power. As a goddess, she does not understand love and
particularly disapproves of Achilles relationship with Patroclus.
If the book has a true hero, it has to
be Patroclus with all his human faults and frailties. He is shown to have
compassion and courage. He shows us Achilles’ human side and enables us to care
what happens to him.
a page turner which keeps you engaged to the final word.