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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

A Window Into One Of The Great Masterpieces Of Western Literature

The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller

Poised between literary and commercial fiction, this accomplished and enjoyable novel recounts the life of Achilles, one of the central characters of the Iliad, through the eyes of his companion, Patroclus. It's a story that's been retold countless times but Miller manages to make the characters feel utterly believeable within the framework of a contemporary novel.

Patroclus is everything that Achilles isn't - clumsy, hopeless at fighting, sensitive and self-deprecating. Yet the two fit together so well, each seeking in the other the part of himself that is missing.

Characterisation is one of Miller's strong points. Of course she's working with a cast list honed through hundreds of years of oral storytelling and finally moulded into shape by a master craftsman. Nevertheless, there are plenty of her own deft touches and her presentation of the double-act of Odysseus and Diomedes is a real joy to witness.

Another of Miller's great strengths is her apparently effortless prose. It's such a confident voice, equally assured in describing the harsh realities of battle or the hesitant dawning and subsequent blossoming of sexuality.

For those who are unfamiliar with the story of the Trojan war, this book will open a window into one of the great masterpieces of Western literature. Fans of Homer will want to revisit the source from which Ms Miller has derived such powerful inspiration.