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The Song of Achilles

by Madeline Miller

This is a retelling of one of the world's great love stories and it is about two men - Achilles and Patroclus. Taking her basic plot from the Iliad, Madeline Miller sensitively and imaginatively fills in the detail of their lives.

Having been exiled from his homeland for accidentally killing a friend, Patroclus is sent to the palace of King Peleus in Phthia. There he is befriended by Achilles, the son of Peleus and the sea goddess, Thetis. Achilles is everything that Patroclus is not: he is blessed with divine beauty, athleticism, musical ability and he is a natural warrior. Despite their differences, the boys are inseparable as they grow up, even when Thetis tries to sever the bond by sending Achilles into the mountains. Patroclus follows him and they live there for years being schooled by a centaur in the arts appropriate to Greek princes. This idyll is shattered when Helen of Sparta is abducted and the kings of Greece are obliged to take their armies to Troy and bring her back. Achilles, as the son of a goddess, has his destiny already foretold and the boys, now lovers and still only sixteen years old, are drafted into the army and sail off in the knowledge that one of them at least will never return.

Miller tells the story so brilliantly that we willingly, in fact almost without noticing, suspend disbelief when it comes to gods and other supernatural creatures and their interventions in the narrative. She maintains a style that is at once plain and lyrical and is perfectly suited to a reworking of the Homeric epic, and her choice of Patroclus as narrator allows her to tell it with great subtlety and empathy. I really enjoyed this book: it is moving and exciting and, surprisingly, kept me up into the wee hours reading about battles!

THE SONG OF ACHILLES won the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction.

Published by Bloomsbury, 368pp.

Clare Chandler

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