This novel had a miraculous effect on me. It made me regret that I didn’t pay more attention when studying The Iliad in school.
What a compulsively readable story Madeline Miller recreates from the famous epic. The characters are famous, with names we recognize. Achilles, son of a goddess and the greatest of all the Greek warriors. Helen, another child of a god, whose beauty so enflames Paris he kidnaps her even if it means war. Agamemnon, Odysseus, Hector, Menelaus, the centaur Chiron, Miller makes them all come alive in a way that was a revelation to me.
But the two characters I found the most fascinating were the least familiar. The story is told from the point of view of Patroclus, beloved companion of Achilles. He is mortal, the son of a king with none of the attributes valued by his father, and has been banned from his home for a childhood act. But he does know how to love, and he will demonstrate this over and over again in his relationship with Achilles.
Thetis, the mother of Achilles, does not approve of Patroclus. She has big plans for her son, will not brook any interference, and Miller makes her terrifying–Greek goddess as Tiger Mother.
The tension between Patroclus and Thetis, who both believe they are acting in the best interests of Achilles, is compelling. The scenes of Achilles going to battle are dramatic and it doesn’t matter that you may already know how they will play out–Miller makes them exciting and fresh.
This is one of my favorite novels of 2012 . Recommended for fans of historical fiction (especially readers of Mary Renault), Greek mythology and especially for anyone else who may have skated through the Iliad in high school or college.