The fifth book in my 12 in 12 Challenge for April is The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller which is set in Ancient Greece, or at least the Ancient Greece of stories and legends. The climax of the book is set at the siege of Troy and it retells the story of the Iliad but from the point of view of Patroclus, Achilles’ friend and, in this interpretation, his lover. I haven’t read the original so some of the subtlety is lost on me but I did read Pat Barker’s book The Silence of the Girls last year which retells this story from the point of view of the women (it was one of my books of the year for 2019 – I was blown away by the powerful storytelling).
Patroclus becomes an exile from his own home when he accidently kills another boy and is rejected by his father. He comes to the court of Achilles’ father and eventually becomes Achilles’ close companion and lover. Achilles is the son of a goddess who takes an active part on his life and who dislikes Patroclus.
Achilles has a destiny of glory. He is the perfect warrior and leader and Patroclus is timid and unable to fight well. Their love is all consuming but Achilles also has his pride. Knowing what his destiny is he nevertheless travels to Troy but he makes enemies of the other kings and of the gods.
I actually found it difficult to like Achilles. I could see why Patroclus admired him but the mutual love wasn’t well enough portrayed for me. Quite a lot of this book is battle scenes and fighting where Patroclus is not capable so the relationship seemed even more unbalanced. Achilles’ sudden attack of pride which eventually causes his death seems to come out of nowhere and I didn’t see that in his character beforehand. I did enjoy the portrayal of the relationship between Achilles and the other kings and of Patroclus and Bresis. I thought that the whole political situation and the use of power was very well done and you could understand the motivations of many of the main characters.
This is a good read but I did find myself comparing the second half of this book with The Silence of the Girls which sees the characters and events differently although the main framework remains the same. I think that most of this is because of the different narrative viewpoint but Pat Barker’s version maybe appealed to me more because there was less fighting and the women played a bigger part. It was great fun to have read both these books and be able to compare them – maybe I will read the original next !