The Song of Achilles

I kept Madeline Miller’s Orange Prize winner on the back burner for as long as I possibly could, characteristically shunning the hype to finally devour it on our September holiday camping this month. With the rave reviews, the historical fiction slant and the profusion of magic and myth, all seemed to bode well for me to love this book just as much as everyone else. Instead of tackling the TBR at random pre-holiday, with no consideration for what I will actually ENJOY reading, these past few months I have been very careful, considered and rather picky about my choices and it is paying dividends.

Bloomsbury : paperback : 2012 : historical fiction : 352 pages

Happily ensconced in my sleeping bag I lost myself in this wonderful début novel for hours on end. In Miller’s careful creation we experience the excitement and tragedy of the Trojan War in all its golden glory, narrated by the deeply invested bystander Patroclus; exiled prince, great friend and lover of Achilles. As well as exploring the legendary relationship between these two mythical figures, those rusty on their Homer can sink their teeth into the gory, glamorous details and follow golden boy Achilles as he hurtles towards his fate. Forget Brad Pitt, this is the real(ish) deal. Miller knows her onions and uses her impressive knowledge as a classicist, combined with very natural story-telling skills to create a seamless narrative, colourful world and characters you can really become invested with.

This was the perfect holiday read. Unadulterated entertainment with brains. Miller’s concept; which takes the story of The Iliad, embellishes it and makes it more accessible for modern readers, is genius. Although I am no classicist myself, the impression left was one of great research and consideration (down to the last accuracy) yet of writing skilled enough to avoid becoming overwhelmed by this detail. The Patroclus – Achilles relationship reigns supreme throughout, at times becoming too slushy for words, however the splendid writing and the efficacy of the bystander-narrative saves this wonderful début novel from veering over into the realms of slash fiction. Thank GOD.

An excellent début and thoroughly deserved winner of  what once was the Orange Prize for Fiction.

16 thoughts on “The Song of Achilles

  1. I so want to read this! For some reason, don’t ask me why, I want to buy it in person, not order it over the net but each time I go into Bordeaux the bookshops don’t have it. It’s driving me bonkers. Still I’m going to England in three weeks so should be able to find it then. In the meantime the next on the TBR list (my husband nicked it before I could get to it) is another Costa winner, by another Miller – Pure by Andrew Miller.


    1. Aw. You want the whole book experience not just the quick fix! 🙂 I would be very, very shocked if you didn’t find it within seconds of walking into any bookshop over here. Can’t wait for you to read it! I read Pure earlier this year for The Readers Summer Book Club. It is amazing, the perfect creepy autumn read.


  2. I did the same as you and only read this recently (funnily enough am also currently reading The Snow Child – as I notice you are too). You are right, it is a “nice” book and quite mainstream compared to some of the other Orange shortlisted books this year and so you could easily recommend it to friends and family knowing that the majority will enjoy it. Excellent holiday reading choice. I love reading by head-torchlight while wrapped in a sleeping bag. However, Im not that hardy and don’t camp after August!


    1. Exactly! My Mum is reading it at the mo as a bit of something light and I bought it my little brother for his b’day. Fail safe. 🙂 There’s nothing cosier than tent reading (apart from having to sprint out into the cold for the loo!) With a big thick sleeping bag there’s nothing better than listening to the wild weather outside whilst you’re all warm and dry and lost in Ancient Greece! Can’t wait to hear what you think about The Snow Child. Another book to lose yourself in….


  3. Great review! Loved this book. What I really admired was how she wrote about the “man love” in such a sensitive way, without needing to go the whole hog and brokeback mountain style. Poignant. The end scenes, wow.. you’re gunning for him to get revenge! Top post xx


    1. Thanks very much! Nice use of quotations around ‘man love’ by the way. Yep, Brokeback with togas may just have been a little too much for me to handle and distracted me somewhat from what is a brilliant brilliant book 🙂


      1. Brokeback with togas – you nearly made me splutter coffee over the laptop there! I found myself a copy! And pretty didn’t speak to the OH for two days while I was reading. I loved it, intelligent historical fiction, just wonderful.


      2. Hurrah! That’s what we want – anything that distracts us from the boyfriend/husband is definitely the measure of a good book! So glad the hunt was worth your while and that it whisked you just as far away as it did me 🙂


  4. I’ve heard such good things about this book and can’t wait to read it. I haven’t got a copy yet, but am waiting for a holiday or something because it seems like the sort of book I’d like to enjoy when I’m away from home.


  5. This is definitely on the list now, can’t seem to catch up with all the shortlists and winners. Speaking of which, why “what once was the Orange Prize for Fiction”? Did it change?


    1. Yeaaah – it’s now simply ‘The Women’s Prize for Fiction’ since Orange withdrew their sponsorship. Even as a book blogger I do tend to be off the button with the prizes, etc as I am a staunch believer in reading precisely what I want to read and NOT what other people tell me I SHOULD be reading! 😀 The Song of Achilles is a marvelous book, whatever the prize 🙂


  6. I read this for my book group about a month ago and LOVED it. Once again, I was just bowled over by Miller’s beautiful style, something I didn’t expect. Can’t wait to see what she’ll come up with next.


    1. I know – it’s been one of my absolute favourite books of the year. Historical fiction floats my boat but usually it’s of the Victorian variety so it was nice to read something completely different. Such an exciting new author!


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