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The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

annis
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Post by annis » Mon June 4th, 2012, 10:07 am

I posted this elsewhere, but here seems a good place to mention that Song of Achilles was the winner of this year's Orange Award for best novel written by a female author.

See Guardian article on Miller's win here- there is also a related podcast by Madeline Miller attached.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/ma ... -2012-mood

This is the last year that Orange will be sponsoring this award- hope someone else picks it up.
Last edited by annis on Mon June 4th, 2012, 10:10 am, edited 1 time in total.

Village
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Post by Village » Wed September 5th, 2012, 11:38 am

Agree with your review. I liked the book and I think Miller's writing is excellent but it does fall short of my expectations for who Patroclus really was in the Illiad.

Some really good bits though. I love the portrayal of Thetis and Charon in particular. I think in general Miller handles the gods very well and this is crucial to any ancient Greek based novel.

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EC2
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Post by EC2 » Sat August 10th, 2013, 7:03 pm

Just read this and for me it was seriously 'Meh'. I have no idea how it won the Orange Prize. I thought the writing was lyrical at times and I liked some of the characterisations - Oddysseus for example was magnificent. But I really came to dislike and skim the scenes where Patroclus went into sensual overload about Achilles. How many times did he have to smell his skin? It was gushy, over the top and in the end, mawkish and boring. Achilles himself, to my mind was a cardboard cut out who never grew up or developed throughout the course of the novel. He remained a sketch, not fully fleshed out. I thought the Ancient Greek landscape was beautifully done, but Achilles and Patroclus were just a pair of 21stC angst-ridden (or Patroclus was) student guys dumped on the film set. Not for me.
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

annis
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Post by annis » Sun August 11th, 2013, 3:54 am

Miller's wrtes beautifully but as you commented earlier, she runs very close to purple prose territory when it comes to love scenes between Patroclus and Achilles. I definitely felt her two main characters resembled a modern gay couple rather than a pair of Achaean warriors. She's entitled to interpret the Iliad as she wishes of course, but her version left me unconvinced, and ultimately unsatisfied.

Why did it win the Orange Prize? I suspect the well-crafted writing dazzled the judges so that they didn't see the emptiness at the heart of the story. Mind you, I nearly always don't agree with the Orange Prize choices :)
Last edited by annis on Sun August 11th, 2013, 4:02 am, edited 2 times in total.

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sweetpotatoboy
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Post by sweetpotatoboy » Sun August 11th, 2013, 7:38 am

I read with interest all the criticisms aimed at this novel and I can't really argue with them. However, for me, this was a case where I could see all the flaws but loved it in any case.

The key problem with this novel is an underlying one that is always going to prove problematic when you take a story that is more myth/legend than history and don't decide whether you're going for a completely realistic treatment or a fully mythical/fantasy treatment. Of course, if you have an Achilles who not just believes but knows that he is a half-immortal destined for legendary heroic status through all time, then he's not going to be the accesssible, vulnerable, rounded, fully human character and equal romantic/relationship partner. And if his 'other half' fully accepts his partner's destiny and subjugates himself to it, he's going to come across as 'wet' and (more than) a bit of a doormat.

Therein lies the problem. Strip out the myth and the hero status, and then what's the point in telling this particular story? Or keep it grounded in the myth, but then your mythical characters will feel more selfish and vainglorious to a contemporary reader - which some fine authors have been able to pull off, e.g. Renault, but then you end up with a very different novel from what Miller was attempting.

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EC2
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Post by EC2 » Mon August 12th, 2013, 8:15 am

If Miller was unable to make me engage with Achilles and caused me to view Patroclus with irritation, then that's down in part to it not being strong enough writing. Obviously personal taste comes into it and what I bring to the experience as a reader, but I think, even given the dynamics of half-deity versus mortal, some writers could work that relationship with greater skill and bring me to feel for Patroclus and Achilles. It can be done, but Miller didn't do it for me. I'd love to have seen early Diana Gabaldon have a go at it, or Barbara Kingsolver, or Mary Stewart as she was when writing the Crystal Cave.
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

annis
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Post by annis » Tue August 13th, 2013, 3:26 am

Ah well, the varied responses to SOA have been grist to the mill for many a book club. I see it's the August Guardian Book Club read at the moment, thoughI have trawled the comments and not found a lot of deep and meaningful discussion :)

I did agree with the comments made by Justine Jordan in the Guardian last year when Miller's novel won the Orange Prize, both about what appealed and what didn't so much.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/j ... NETTXT3487

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EC2
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Post by EC2 » Tue August 13th, 2013, 2:12 pm

Yes, I'd agree with those comments too Annis - very well stated I thought.
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

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Ludmilla
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Post by Ludmilla » Mon July 7th, 2014, 4:44 pm

[quote=""annis""]Miller's wrtes beautifully but as you commented earlier, she runs very close to purple prose territory when it comes to love scenes between Patroclus and Achilles. I definitely felt her two main characters resembled a modern gay couple rather than a pair of Achaean warriors. She's entitled to interpret the Iliad as she wishes of course, but her version left me unconvinced, and ultimately unsatisfied.

[/quote]

I'm halfway through this, and I'm pretty much having this same reaction. So much so, I'm taking my time finishing the last half. I think the first person narration is a contributing factor as well. Seeing everything through the angst-ridden lens of Patroclus doesn't allow for Achilles to emerge as a fully fleshed out character. I also don't yet see what could possibly attract him to Patroclus.
EC said: ...some writers could work that relationship with greater skill and bring me to feel for Patroclus and Achilles. It can be done, but Miller didn't do it for me. I'd love to have seen early Diana Gabaldon have a go at it, or Barbara Kingsolver, or Mary Stewart as she was when writing the Crystal Cave.
I think Tanith Lee could do it.

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