The Song of Achilles … a review

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This was the second book I picked from last year’s Orange Prize shortlist. This was the book that eventually won the last and final Orange; it was highly recommended to me too. It is a lovely book, themed around the battle of Troy. Now, so far, my opinion of such books has been that of slow, tedious reads reads, which I only get through because the history behind them is so incredible. In this area, Madeline Miller is a genius! The language is lucid, the dialogue simple. She has truly brought Greek history to the 21st century effortlessly and beautifully.

Another thing that I must mention is font. Yes, typeset, I fuss over these things because I have been a technical writer. The font she uses, and there’s a note at the end about it, is Baskerville. It is large-ish without being bulky and is very easy to read because of its spacing. Anyway, so in Greece, Achilles and Patroclus become friends. Patroclus is an exile from his father’s land and a companion to Achilles. As the boys grow up, their friendship deepens into a bond of a strange nature, almost one without a name or meaning.

But when Helen is kidnapped by Troy and held captive, the boys must go to war, and with the prophecies that they know of, of half-man half-God Achilles, this does not seem to be the best proposition. They don’t have a choice at sixteen and as they go to the gates of Troy and being the long hard tireless journey of war, everything that they hold true of each other will be tested.

War is futile. It beings nothing but agony, pain, and even when it is over, it leaves behind scars, wounds, and dull pains that haunt people and never go away. All of civilization is made on the foundations of war. We cannot escape our past. This is what I am always left with after a war themed book. This book is a must read and I can easily see why it won.

Quote: “The ship’s boards were still sticky with new resin. We leaned over the railing to wave our last farewell, the sun-warm wood pressed against our bellies. The sailors heaved up the anchor, square and chalky with barnacles, and loosened the sails. Then they took their seats at the oars that fringed the boat like eyelashes, waiting for the count. The drums began to beat, and the oars lifted and fell, taking us to Troy.”

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