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.
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.