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Book 52: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Book 52: The Song of Achilles.
Author: Madeline Miller, 2011.
Genre: Historical Fiction. GLBT. Greek Myth. War.
Other Details: Paperback. 368 pages.

Greece in the age of Heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to Phthia to live in the shadow of King Peleus and his strong, beautiful son, Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper — despite the displeasure of Achilles’s mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear. - synopsis from Orange Prize website.

This was the first book in the 2012 Orange Prize short-list that I chose to read for our Orange Prize reading group. Given its subject matter it is a title I probably would have read eventually so it was a natural choice to open with.

I found it a beautifully written novel and very quickly was drawn into Miller's vision of the ancient world. Her focus is consciously narrow; she is not attempting a re-telling of the Iliad but concentrating upon Achilles' life and involvement in the Trojan War through the eyes of his companion, Patroclus.

I especially appreciated the way in which Miller dealt with the presentation of gods and other mythical beings in the novel. I had no sense of Miller trying to impose 21st Century sensibilities upon this aspect and as a result the various gods, goddesses, demi-gods, nymphs and centaurs took their place in the narrative in a very natural way. They just were without any disclaimers.

A stunning début novel and I sincerely hope that with Miller's background in and love for ancient history and literature that she will write more in this vein. So far this has been my favourite of the short-list, though I don't necessarily feel it will end up in the winner's circle on the 30th.

Madeline Miller's website - contains a wealth of information about the novel.

Note: Well this did win the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction after all and I was very pleased with the announcement.

Tags: glbt, historical fiction, myth and legend, orange prize, war

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