Our mouths opened under each other, and the warmth of his sweetened throat poured into mine. I could not think, could not do anything but drink him in, each breath as it came, the soft movements of his lips. It was a miracle.
The first book from my Summer Reading List is Madeline Miller’s Orange Prize winning debut novel The Song of Achilles. A re-working of Homer’s epic Iliad, The Song of Achilles is told from the perspective of Patroclus, Achilles’ close ‘companion’, and is a beautiful tale of their youth, their passionate love and the Trojan war.
The story begins with Helen’s betrothal to Menelaus told from Patroclus’ young eyes, though this is the only time that Helen is the focus of the novel. She may be the face that launched a thousand ships, but the story centres on honour and masculine pride. Achilles and Patroclus’ companionship moves to a deeper relationship on mount Pelion, the idyllic setting of their youth, before a sudden call from the Mycenaeans changes their lives forever.
Despite its focus on the hypermasculinity of ancient warfare, Miller’s novel has deeply sensual and emotive themes, and brings in striking female characters including Achilles’ terrifying goddess mother Thetis, and the strong-willed Briseis. Miller’s prose is carefully crafted – in fact, it took her ten years to complete the novel – and breathes a refreshingly poignant and sensitive new life into an ancient classic.
The ancient world is so captivating, and its love story so powerful that this book is a must-read for both classics-geeks and novices alike.
The next book from The Summer Reading List series will be Lucy Caldwell’s All the Beggars Riding.