All-male reading group's next Orange Prize book
3 May 2012 / 0 Comments
What the group thought
Miller's writing style is found to be a clear, direct and subtle retelling of one of the stories of the Illiad told from the unusual standpoint of Achilles' gay lover Patroclus. The novel's success or failure depends on the effective realization of this archetypal relationship.
The writer places their lives in a setting that seems to be real. However we had mixed views about the description of the first period of their lives. Some felt that the early narrative was over simplified and unbelievable - the initial basis for the mutual love between Patroclus and Achilles not especially convincing or charged with emotional depth. Patroclus is clearly and understandably seduced by Achilles' athletic and physical beauty. However, the attraction of Achilles to Patroclus is less clear.
Other views were that Miller's description of the otherwordly innocence of their time with the Centaur Chiron and their hesitant and burgeoning love making, was impressive and psychologically coherent, as was her description of the tension between Patroclus and Achilles' mother - a central theme throughout the book. No wonder many of Freud's ideas came from the Myths!
We were all unanimous about the success of the story in the second part during the war. This writing is well crafted, carrying the stench of Macho male invasion and political intrigue into the mythological intertwining of humans and the divine Gods we have in the legends and myths. Once in Troy and the war begins, the plot develops more quickly, and the writing picks up pace and conviction towards an exciting climax.
The mutual commitment of the two - Patroclus and Achilles - is supportive gripping and fatal. Achilles changes - his character poisoned by hubris and search for immortal fame. So too does Patroclus change - developing far more demanding and complex relationships. Some saw Achilles as a cardboard character, Patroclus as one of the few characters to demonstrate emotion and conscience in any believable way.
What are the dilemmas facing these two characters, caught up the games played by the mother Thetis, Odysseus, and the other wiser, more cynical and brighter antagonists in this tale? Do they have free will - could Achilles have chosen differently, fated to die after Hector, thus avoided sending Patroclus and so many others to their deaths?
Overall we found the book an involving, worthwhile and easy way in to Greek mythology in general and the Iliad in particular. We would have liked more consistency in the first part of the book regarding the description of the emotional involvement and development of the characters.
It did not have quite enough to recommend it as a must read, or as a stand alone novel apart from its derivation from the classic tale.
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