Surprised by Patroclus

Last Monday I wrote about how writing a weekly blog post might keep me focused on what I want to read and help avoid shiny-new-book-syndrom. As I was still suffering from the mighty book hangover that Middlemarch gave me, I wasn’t planning on starting a new novel until later this week when I’ll join some friends in a readalong of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.

And then, I was swept off my feet by Patroclus, narrator of Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, book cover

Madeline Miller Now on Tour

This Wednesday Miller has an event at a local bookstore that I’m planning to attend. [Click here for her tour schedule.] I hadn’t read either of her two novels, both of which are imaginative retellings of stories from Greek mythology. They’ve been highly praise around the globe. The Song of Achilles (2011) won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2012. Her second novel, Circe, was released in the spring of 2018 and has made readers just as happy as her first novel.

I’ve had a copy of The Song of Achilles on my ereader for sometime now. My plan was to read a chapter or two to get a sense of the novel and Miller’s writing style prior to the event. That plan was easily forgotten as I was swept into the story and read the novel in three sittings. It’s really good storytelling.

Greek Mythology Not Required

You don’t need to know Greek mythology to enjoy The Song of Achilles. If you do, your reading experience will be enhanced. On the other hand, trained classists might gripe about knit-picky things.

In brief, this is the story of Patroclus, an awkward mortal prince who is exiled, and the half-divine Achilles who will become the greatest warrior of ancient Greece. The two meet as boys and Achilles takes Patroclus as his companion. They grow up together and their fondness blooms into love. Achilles mother is a water nymph who thinks Patroclus is beneath her son (she hates all mortals). The wise old centaur that Achilles is sent to study under accepts their bond which grows under his wise, organic teaching style. Then the winds of war start to blow and The Trojan War begins.

I read the Iliad in college several decades ago and hardly remember anything about it. I’m now curious to read it again. I don’t recall Agamemnon being such a tool. I am also tempted to jump right into Circe, but will start Song of Solomon first, which I’ve been looking forward to reading.

Out-and-About

Mayflower II from the observation deck at Mystic Seaport.

The visit with family members last week was fun. We spent one day exploring the Connecticut coast. My Mom has visited a bunch of times but it was a first visit for my cousins. On their first day here we drove the coast from Guilford over to New London and then on to Mystic. We had excellent lobster rolls on fancy buns at Red 36 and then went to the Mystic Seaport Museum.

I’ve long wanted to visit this museum and it was a delight, even in the rain. We had two umbrellas with us and purchased two plastic ponchos and happily explored the ships and village buildings of the outdoor portion of the museum — they’ve recreated an entire 19th-century maritime village here. It’s the largest maritime museum in the United States. A highlight was seeing the Mayflower II from an observation platform as she was being moved toward the water, preparing for a dip. The ship is nearing the end of a three-year renovation. She’s scheduled to launch on September 7 and sail home to Plimoth Plantation.

I’ll definitely go back to the museum as there’s so much more to see than we were able to get to in one afternoon. I’d like to visit their library. Plus, they have an excellent gift and bookstore in which I had to restrain myself from buying things. But once we’re moved into our new house….

After Mystic we headed to Westerly, Rhode Island. My cousins went off in search of beer while Mom and I went to the Savoy Bookshop & Cafe. She loved the place, as I knew she would. After a browse, she bought me a copy of Louise Penny’s new entry in the Chief Inspector Gamache Series, A Better Man, and for herself the sixth book in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series, now written by David Lagercrantz, The Girl Who Lived Twice.

Mom at the Savoy bookstore
Storytime break at the Savoy.

We also had a spontaneous storytime with Donald and the Golden Crayon by P. Shauers that someone left on the table between two chairs where we sat for awhile. It’s political satire, adult humor, but I don’t find anything funny about the Trump administration.

In last week’s post I mentioned we were going to Boston for the day, but everyone decided to save that excursion for a future visit because they wanted to spend more time exploring Connecticut. This included a visit to the Henry Whitfield State Museum right here in Guilford, more sightseeing and antique store browsing.

We did take the train to Manhattan one day. Of course a tourist trip to NYC with me includes a visit to the New York Public Library. We browsed the gift shop where I couldn’t resist making a purchase. It wasn’t a book, but a fountain pen. My first Kaweco, the classic sport model, fine tip, bordeaux.

Also Read & Up Next

Last week I read and enjoyed “Scandal” for the Willa Cather Short Story Project. I didn’t know what to expect from this story, but I think it is absolutely fascinating. If you’re interested, click here to read my response post.

After I hit publish on this post, I’ll edit Episode 84 of the Book Cougars. Emily and I had a big old catch-up Saturday morning. That episode will be out tomorrow, 9/3.

I hope you’ve had a great reading week. What’s on your reading radar this week?



Categories: General

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7 replies

  1. I adored Song of Achilles. And AS SOON AS YOU FINISH IT, you must read Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls. The story from the women’s point of view. It’s wonderful!

  2. I loved both of Miller’s books. So happy you linked her tour schedule because I I just bought a ticket. Thank you!

  3. I have heard SUCH rave reviews of The Song of Achilles and Circe…but I really know nothing about mythology. Your comment that prior knowledge isn’t necessary makes me think I should give them a try.

    Playing tourist in your own state sounds like fun! Mystic is a great place to visit, though we haven’t been there in years. And i MUST get to the NY public library one of these days! It has a gift shop??

    Enjoy your books this week, Chris – oh, and Congratulations on a successful Big Book Summer!! if you wrote reviews, you can add your links to the challenge page.

    Sue

    Book By Book

    • Yes, the NYPL has a gift shop and it is FAN-TASTIC! Here’s a link to their website: https://shop.nypl.org/ If it works out to let me know when you’re coming to NYC, I’d love to meet up.

      Don’t let your unfamiliarity of Greek mythology hold you back from reading The Song of Achilles if it sounds interesting to you. It’s really good storytelling and told in the sparse, poetic tradition of the “original” story. Who knows, it might turn you on to reading The Iliad and The Odyssey.

      I ended up reading two Big Books this summer, Gone with the Wind and Middlemarch. I think I connected both and will double check.

  4. Glad you enjoyed Song of Achilles — I liked Circe even better, so you can look forward to that for sure. Mystic Seaport is a special place too! We went there for my son’s birthday some years ago when he was obsessed with ships and he loved it.

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