Reviews

Review: The Song of Achilles ~ by Madeline Miller

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Review: The Song of Achilles ~ by Madeline Miller

352 pages (paperback) ~ Literary Fiction/Greek Mythology  

2011 ~ Bloomsbury

My Rating: 5/5

Goodreads Description:

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect 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 deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ 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.

Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.

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87c5788a-3a47-4cd5-964b-0523170c8e46My Thoughts:  

This book was absolute magic. Reading Circe was a transformative experience, and The Song of Achilles had the same profound impact on me. Though I related to Circe’s story more, mainly because it dealt with so many women’s issues, I really loved the way that Miller was able to give so much depth to a story that I thought I knew. Since there are so many beautiful reviews of this book, I will keep mine short and sweet by listing a few of my favorite elements of the book.

  • The guilt of war – in other stories of Achilles he is portrayed as a killer. I really liked that Miller used his relationship with Patroclus to show his guilt over the lives he was forced to take. This conveyed his goodness and Patroclus’ influence on him.
  • The subtlety of their love story – Patroclus and Achilles’ love for each other is never overtly stated, instead, the reader feels how much they love each other through their actions. Miller does such an amazing job of conveying their deep love and admiration for each other in such a poetic and subtle way.

“He is half my soul, as the poets say.”

  • Concept of fame – the story really plays with the idea of fame since this is something that Achilles chases throughout the book. It brings up questions of fame’s importance to history. One of my favorite quotes from the book addresses this question:

“Fame is a strange thing. Some men gain glory after they die, while others fade. What is admired in one generation is abhorred in another? We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory….We are men only, a brief flare of the torch. Those to come may raise us or lower us as they please. Patroclus may be such as will rise in the future.”

I thought this quote was really interesting considering that the book seems to be attempting this very thing.

  • Remembered for his goodness  – The ending of the book was heartbreaking and beautiful. Achilles is a hero who is known for his ruthlessness and his ability to cut men down. However, Miller does an amazing job of attempting to rewrite his history. Instead, we remember Achilles through Patroclus’ eyes. He is remembered instead through this great and epic love story, rather than for death and destruction.

“They do not come as words, but like dreams, rising as scent from the rain-wet earth. This, I say. This and this. The way his hair looked in summer sun. His face when he ran. His eyes, solemn as an owl at lessons. This and this and this. So many moments of happiness, crowding forward.”

I would definitely recommend this book to fans of Greek Mythology, however, I think that everyone would enjoy it. There is no need to have prior or extensive knowledge of mythology before going into this book.

If you have read it, or plan to, leave me a message!

For more information on Madeline Miller and her books, check her out on Goodreads.

Click here > SomewhereinPages < to find me on Instagram and here > SomewhereinPages < to find me on Goodreads.

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Reviews

Review: The Silence of the Girls ~ by Pat Barker

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Review: The Silence of the Girls ~ by Pat Barker

291 pages ~ Literary Fiction/Greek Mythology Retelling

2018~ Doubleday Books

Audio Narrated by Kristin Atherton and Michael Fox

10 hr 44 mins

Published by Random House Audio

Presented by Audible.com

My Rating: 5/5 ✰✰✰✰✰

Goodreads Description:

The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman—Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman—Briseis—watches and waits for the war’s outcome. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms, until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army.

When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position, able to observe the two men driving the Greek army in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate not only of Briseis’s people but also of the ancient world at large.

Briseis is just one among thousands of women living behind the scenes in this war—the slaves and prostitutes, the nurses, the women who lay out the dead—all of them erased by history. With breathtaking historical detail and luminous prose, Pat Barker brings the teeming world of the Greek camp to vivid life. She offers nuanced, complex portraits of characters and stories familiar from mythology, which, seen from Briseis’s perspective, are rife with newfound revelations. Barker’s latest builds on her decades-long study of war and its impact on individual lives—and it is nothing short of magnificent.

“Many of these songs I remember from my own childhood. As a small girl at home in my father’s house, I used to creep down to the courtyard when I was supposed to be in bed asleep and listen to the bards playing and singing in the hall. Perhaps, at that age, I thought all the stirring tales of courage and adventure were opening a door into my own future, though a few years later- ten, eleven years old, perhaps- the world began to close in around me and I realized the songs belonged to my brothers, not to me.”

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My Thoughts:

Barker does something pretty brilliant in this book- she manages to simultaneously celebrate The Iliad (the original source of this story) and challenge it. Her challenge comes in the form of perspective because her story brings to light the thoughts/feelings/struggles/triumphs of the women in this story- who both A) played a crucial role in the politics and the emotion of the story, and B) whose perspectives were woefully left out of the original. However, her book also celebrates the Iliad. She gives you a sense of the majesty of this story and the complexity of its heroes. I honestly can’t say enough about how much I loved this book- it was a breath of fresh air, it was moving, emotional, honest, and beautifully written. Below were some of the high points for me:

  • The connection to the Iliad- Barker is very careful to interject Briseis’ voice into Achilles’ story- Briseis never attempts to rewrite it or make it her own. She is very honestly telling the events from her own perspective- inserting her own thoughts and feelings while also commenting on the differences between her story and the romanticized legends of Achilles and the Trojan War.

“Suppose, suppose just once, once, in all these centuries, the slippery gods keep their word and Achilles is granted eternal glory in return for his early death under the walls of Troy…? What will they make of us, the people of those unimaginable distant times? One thing I do know: they won’t want to be told about the massacres of men and boys, the enslavement of women and girls. They won’t want to know we were living in a rape camp. No, they’ll go for something altogether softer. A love story, perhaps? I just hope they manage to work out who the lovers were.

His story. His, not mine. It ends at his grave.”

  • With this connection to the Iliad, we also see Achilles in a completely new light. He continues to be the brutal, ruthless, killing machine that we know, but in seeing his love for Patroclus and his connection to his mother, there is a new depth to him. Even his relationship with Briseis changes over the course of this story. They form a mutual respect and understanding of each other. It’s not loving, I wouldn’t even call it friendship, but it’s definitely a shared acceptance and protection.
  • The everyday struggles and triumphs of the women and their day-to-day life in the camp was beautifully captured. The women like Briseis who have been captured and taken away from their homes to live as slaves in the Greek war camp find a magical way to cope with their reality. Through caring for the children, caring for the sick and wounded, preparing the dead for cremation, all preparing the food, the women in the camp find connection and purpose despite what they are forced to endure.
  • Use of the Gods- There is not as much interaction with the Gods in this story as there is in The Iliad. In fact, Achilles’ mother, Thetis, is the only God these characters ever interact with. The subtle inclusion of the Gods allows for the possibility that some of these “curses” and “bargains” with said Gods could actually be in the minds of the characters rather than a reality.
  • Narrative style- For the most part, the story is told in the first person by Briseis. It is as if you are sitting down with an old friend and she is telling you about the most horrific experiences of the life. This story is raw and unsentimental, unlike the romanticization we find in the Iliad. This story is coming from a person who has become immune to the horrors and the pain that she suffered. To her, it is just her life, not a heroic legend or fanciful tale. Briseis even poses questions for the reader. Questions that she knows the reader might have or questions that a friend might have in hearing her story.

“This man killed your brothers, he killed your husband, he burned your city, he destroyed every single thing you’d ever loved- and you were prepared to marry him? I don’t understand how you could do that?

“Perhaps that’s because you’ve never  been a slave?”

Again, I can’t say enough about the beauty of this book. If you are a fan of Greek Mythology retellings, this is a must!

For more information on Pat Barker and her books, check her out on Goodreads

Follow me on Instagram @somewhereinpages & Goodreads @erinrossi