There were quite a few people who couldn’t make it to book club this week to talk about The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller), a re-telling of the classic Greek tale The Illiad. Those of us who were there decided that this was the main problem with this book – why re-tell such an iconic story? There was something about this fact that put most of us off, particularly those who already knew the story.
It is a book of two halves, the first half focusing on the childhood of two quite different Princes, Patroclus and Achilles, with Patroclus as the narrator. As their relationship develops, the story moves on to the period of the Trojan Wars and the narrative picks up quite quickly, with decades passing in the space of a couple of paragraphs. The first half of the book did seem more enjoyable, perhaps because of the slower pace and the element of the unknown – the author could use her imagination a little more and I had less of an idea as to what twists and turns might face the pair as young boys.
Overall the verdict was a mixture of positives and (mainly) negatives – the two main characters were mostly disliked, with minor figures such as Odysseus and Briseis found to be much more appealing. I suppose we almost felt as though the focus on Patroclus and Achilles was too much when there were other more interesting figures in the story that could be explored (Agamemnon and Hector, who was barely mentioned, to name another two). Which brings it all back to the issue of retelling a classic tale from the point of view of a character that had a very narrow view of events – it made the story not as gripping as you may have hoped, and it did leave us wondering why the author decided to re-write the Illiad in the first place.
I didn’t ask for a star rating from anyone, but I’m guessing it would be 2.5 out of 5 – easy to read but a little disappointing by the end. I should also add that this Book Club saw the first ever occurrance of someone having made notes on the book to bring with them. Extra Brownie points were awarded.