Greetings, Singers of The Song of Achilles! by Madeline Miller. Got your lyre ready?
In my usual rambling style, I will offer questions, quotes I liked and interesting things of note that will encourage us to share what we are enjoying so for in the story and what we are not. I read the first half rather quickly – to Chapter 17: When Achilles and Patroclus arrive at the beach to meet Agamemnon, before they all set off for Troy. I was waiting to post this before I finish but am hoping it will be this afternoon!
I have read the P.S. included in my copy: the Meet the Author, Insights and Interviews, etc. Hope you have that, I hope to chat about that here, too.
FIRST. I must share that I barely know the Greek mythology. This may be obvious when I say that I do not know who Mary Renault is. The cover of my edition shows a quote by Emma Donoghue, “Mary Renault lives again!” and I have no clue who or what this Mary person is. In order to check my guess, I seek goodreads and find that Ms. Renault wrote historical fiction of ancient Greece. I actually might have heard of The King Must Die, not that I would have guessed it was about Theseus*. Has anyone read it? Want to? I think I might! so more books go onto the tbr… Ah, I see my imaginary (and very influential on my reading choices) friend Ruthiella has read this. Cool.
Second question, would you put The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller in the HISTORICAL FICTION category? Do we care? Must we genre-fy everything. (Perhaps that question is an aside best tackled another time.)
I have had the opportunity to listen to Madeline Miller speak at the 2012 Boston Book Festival and really enjoyed the talk and how she presented herself, how truly excited she is about this project of hers. Having taken 10 years to write and maybe I assume the getting it published time was added to that, the reception to this award-winning book must be a thrill and a half. I blame Softdrink’s review for first bringing this book to my attention and I know I must blame Miller herself for ensuring I WOULD read this. So thank you all again for joining me here.
Style. The prose has been said to by lyrical (appropriate, no?) and beautiful. At first encountering it, I was struck by how short and simple the sentence structure seems but the sentence and paragraph construction feels highly artistic and powerful. I marvel.
…, I would mumble from my bed, “Is she well?”
And he would answer. “Yes, she is well.” And he might add: “The fish are thick today” or “The bay is warm as a bath.” And then we would sleep again.
Spoilers. If you know your Greek gods, you know how this story will progress. Actually, the story itself more than hints that Achilles will die. Do you think the author has balanced this well for those of us who may be murky on Achilles, the Trojan War and who is who? (I guess, I framed that question to say I would agree.) She drops in the prophecy, “Hector’s death will be first.” in the conversation between Thetis and Patroclus so we know we can expect death.
Also, in the Q&A between Miller and Gregory Maguire, he asks a question about authorial decision. A long question about combining present and past tense and techniques that as a layperson like me would likely never notice consciously (which again would speak to the author’s skill) and then Miller complements him on ‘framing the question without spoilers’! I got excited all over again to keep reading but instead starting poking around at movies about Troy,
and picked up on spoilers I kind of wish I hadn’t read/seen. Oh well. Discuss – CAN this book be spoiled?
Do you like Patroclus? Do you think he is ‘surprising’? Do you think he was ‘surprising’ because he was one boy who didn’t fawn all over Achilles AND that he had a reputation? It reminds me how we never want what is easy. We are always wanting the thing that is a little harder to get.
I love Achilles. Can’t help it. I love kids like him who are confident and don’t even know it. That are easy and smart and make eye contact. I love his father — and boy-howdy, I did not like Patroclus’ father. I can’t help think of how much we shape our children with our expectations. Oh how subtle and obvious we are with our words and actions. “Why do you always screw up!”, “The teachers don’t get it that you have a learning disability and shouldn’t be expected to read this”, “You’ll make your best friends in college” etc…
Or has Achilles (ARISTOS ACHAION!!) already changed into something more egotistical with his choosing glory over a long life? DID he choose? or is he just embracing his destiny?
“Achilles nodded and bent over the lyre. I did not have time to wonder about his intervention. His fingers touched the strings, and all my thoughts were displaced. The sound was pure and sweet as water, bright as lemons. It was like no music I had ever heard before. It had warmth as a fire does, a texture and weight like polished ivory. It buoyed and soothed at once. A few hairs slipped forward to hang over his eyes as he played. They were fine as lyre strings themselves, and shone.” ~p.34
I’m seriously thinking I might want to read The Iliad. I love books that only add more suggestions to my tbr.
SO FAR: My notes, trying to keep track…
Ch 1 – Son of kings, simple mother, smiling bride.
Ch 2 – Attempt to be suitor to King Tyndareus’ dot. Blood oath not to fight. (Proud of myself for thinking this important!)
Ch 3 – Killing the boy and banished. p.22 – meaning of Patroclus (“honor of the father” – ha! what was I just saying about expectations?)
Ch 4 – Meeting Achilles
Ch 5 – Therapon = companion. Confidence of a prince, “He is surprising.”
Ch 6 – Friendship (age 12) “Gods and mortals never mixed happily in our stories.” ~p.51
Ch 7 – The kiss
Ch 8 – The Centaur Chiron
Ch 9 – Learning from Chiron
Ch 10 – “She cannot see us here.” – whoa: instant recognition of the weight of that statement!, pink quartz cave
Ch 11 – Called back to Phthia,“They never let you be famous and happy.” ~p.105
Ch 12 – Helen captured by Troy; Sycros/Lycomedes/Deidemeia & Achilles/Pyrrha (fire hair), Achilles swears to son. ~p.137 (LOTS happen in this chapter!)
Ch 13 – Deidemeia and Patroclus
Ch 14 –
Ch 15 –
Ch 16 –
Ch 17 –
p.22 jape – to say something mockingly
p.127 moue – grimace or pout
p.144 craven – lacking the least bit of courage, contemptibly fainthearted, “as craven as you are ugly”
p.145 goad – something that pains as if by pricking
* I’m at risk of being deathly boring, I couldn’t tell you who Theseus is…
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