Soph’s Library: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

015It’s time for my final book of the year. I had other highlights on the list for review, but time massively ran away from me. From the New Year on I will be attempting to read a book a week for a year, ideally up to the magic 52. I will review every book I read (at least that’s the aim!), but for now I couldn’t let 2014 end without telling you about this wonderful book.

Other books I would highly recommend to you, which made the list but not the blog, are as follows:

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
The Husband’s Secret by Lian Moriarty
Printer’s Devil Court by Susan HillThe Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

Anyway, on to the The Song of Achilles. This was my absolute stand out book of the year. I was aware of it for ages, but had never got around to reading it (story of my life!) But earlier this year while browsing the Oxfam Bookshop at my dad’s nearest town, I found a copy for the princely sum of £1.99, and decided it was about time I checked out this epic love story for myself.

The Trojan War is a topic which has fascinated me since I first started reading myths and legends as a child. I liked the idea of reading about the war from the POV of a lesser known character, and one whose name generates such intrigue. For Patroclus, the narrator of the story, was the friend, confidante and lover of the legendary Achilles. However, his role has been largely sidelined in the retelling, and so this book, which also won the Orange Prize for Fiction, promised to be an interesting read.

I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The book spans Patroclus’s whole life, from a miserable start at the hands of a bullying father, to his first meeting with Achilles as a child, the metamorphosis of their relationship, fractured by the devastation which the Trojan War brings, both to their lives and that of those around them.

The novel introduces you to all the major mythological players: Helen, Paris, Agamemnon, Odysseus and Thetis among them. Each is given a new spin on their personalities, or an emphasis to the characteristics already assigned to them in myth. Odysseus, for example, is portrayed as cunning and perceptive: a good people watcher and reader, with skills in both battle and negotiation. But he also had a callous side and that element of self-preservation which made him seem as though he would walk over anyone, on his side or otherwise, to get by. I trusted him about as far as I could throw him.

In fact of all the characters, I felt that Patroclus was probably portrayed in the most sympathetic light. Yes he gets jealous, and yes he is a little cowardly and ultimately useless in battle. But his other talents, and his good nature and loving personality redeem that, and you see that he is, in fact, the strongest of the two, for all of Achilles’ strength and battlefield achievements.

As already mentioned, this is a love story, and as such covers the sexual aspect of a relationship. There is always the opportunity with any love story to ramp this up and make it exaggerated or cringey, to make it all about sex and lust. But this isn’t the case here, and in fact the story is sweet and enjoyable, and the physical aspects are handled very tastefully.

The story is brilliantly told and, although an alternative version, it does stick to events as they run in legend. I was, in fact, wishing that certain events wouldn’t happen, that somehow there would be a way for everyone to live happily ever after. Sadly war is full of tragedies. It’s been a long time since I cried at a book (the last Harry Potter book, anyone?), but I had certainly lost it by the end. Not just a solitary tear or two trailing down my cheek, I had rivers pouring down my face. In public, no less. I hate crying in front of other people, particularly strangers. So believe me when I say that this is a powerful book. You will close it at the end and think ‘Wow’, and ‘Oh my God’. Even though I knew the overall plot, and knew the major twists and turns, I was surprised at just how much it affected me.

And one of the greatest things about reading this book? Meeting Anna not long after I had finished the book for one of our catch ups, and me gushing away about how wonderful it was and how much I cried, just for her to say “I know”. Such is the power of this book, ladies and gents! I loved everything about it – from the gorgeous cover to the content and style, even the way it left me an emotional wreck at the end. It is a wonderfully touching love story and it had such an impact on me.

For all these reasons and more it is, without question, my Book of the Year. If you pick up one book next year, make it this one!

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