a blank slate

a blank slate

Tag: lgbt

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (which, incidentally, J. K. Rowling loved) is a re-imagining of the Trojan war from the point of view of Patroclus, whose minor appearance in the Iliad has the greatest consequences. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about stop reading when I say, “Spoiler!”)
Overall impression: I’d rate this book a 3.5 / 5. It’s an engaging read, recommended to those interested in Greek or Trojan mythology. That being said, there are countless interpretations of the Iliad, and it may be unfair to expect it to do something that hasn’t been done before. It’s not a retelling. It rarely strays from the original, but will be a good introduction to the myth. 

Summary: As a young boy, Patroclus is one of the princes present at the time when the beautiful Helen chooses to marry the red-haired Menelaus. Along with the other warrior men, Patroclus takes the oath, proposed by Odysseus, to honour Helen’s choice and defend her husband against anyone who’d take her from him. All princes present are enviably handsome, powerful and gifted, while Patroclus is a little boy, feeble, unpromising and a disappointment to his father. One day, at the age of eight, Patroclus accidentally kills a boy who bullies him, and confesses. His father, infuriated by his un-princely humbleness, exiles him to Pythia, a small country ruled by King Peleus. Peleus’s son, sired from the sea-nymph goddess Thetis, is prophecized to be Aristos Achaion, the best of the Greeks. Achilles.
Ignoring all the boys who fight for his attention, Achilles chooses Patroclus as his companion. Their friendship blossoms into love. Even Achilles’s mother finds Patroclus unworthy of her son, and they struggle against all odds to be together. During their apprenticeship with Chiron, king of the Centaurs, news arrives of Queen Helen’s abduction from Sparta and Agamemnon’s appeal to sail to Troy to rescue her. Achilles, unable to trick his fate, and Patroclus, bound by his vow, are recruited to join the Greeks. With the prophecy hanging over their heads, certain that Achilles would die in the war, after the death of Hector, the Myrmidons, commanded by Achilles, set off for Troy.

What I didn’t like: Flitting tenses are annoying, but that’s just me. Patroclus’s narration is often maudlin and he seems infatuated with Achilles and absurdly unaware of his own potential, until the moment it’s revealed to us (surprise!) that Patroclus is the best of the Myrmidons. Patroclus’s descriptions of Achilles are garish and repetitive, and the love scenes are sometimes laughably awkward. At some of the key moments, the purple prose strives to invoke a reaction and we lose the profound simplicity such scenes demand.


What I liked: The Song of Achilles is aptly titled and looks at Achilles in all his glory and terror with an unbiased honesty, that only a lover can show. The story and the point of view turns the hero or the villain, as he’s bound to be either extreme in most interpretations of the myth, into a person. The characters of this book are charmingly fleshed out, my favourites are Odysseus, Thetis and Briseis. The floweriness of Patroclus’s descriptions doesn’t extend to the dialogue, which has a good flow and gives each character his distinct voice.
The all encompassing quality of this book makes it special. It strings together countless stories of all the men of Greece and Ilium and all the Olympian gods, capturing the essence of an epic. It’s clear that a lot of research went into this book, and that makes the absence of information dumps all the better. 

(SPOILER!) From the very first page, beginning with Patroclus’s first person narration, I wondered what would happen after he died. It would be weird if the narrative just stopped after Hector killed Patroclus and the book ended with Hector still alive. No book about Achilles would skip his final revenge. And a shift in point of view so close to the end would be too jarring. So what Miller’s done is use a risky literary device and let the unburied spirit of Patroclus shadow the rest of the war, invisibly watching Achilles’s death and the fall of Troy. It sounds hard to pull off, and seems too contrived at first, but the ghost-narration is wonderfully executed and the book ends on an impossibly happy note. (end of SPOILER)
Favourite conversations:


(a young Achilles, full of hope, in spite of his godly destiny)
“Name one hero who was happy.” 
I considered. Heracles went mad and killed his family; Theseus lost his bride and father; Jason’s children and new wife were murdered by his old; Bellerophon killed the Chimera but was crippled by the fall from Pegasus’ back.
“You can’t.” He was sitting up now, leaning forward. 
“I can’t.” 
“I know. They never let you be famous AND happy.” He lifted an eyebrow. “I’ll tell you a secret.” 
“Tell me.” I loved it when he was like this. 
“I’m going to be the first.”


(Chiron, on the futility of war)
Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of mortal inventions. “No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from.”  
“But what if he is your friend?” Achilles had asked him, feet kicked up on the wall of the rose-quartz cave. “Or your brother?  Should you treat him the same as a stranger?”  
“You ask a question that philosophers argue over,” Chiron had said. “He is worth more to you, perhaps. But the stranger is someone else’s friend and brother. So which life is more important?”
We had been silent. We were fourteen, and these things were too hard for us. Now that we are twenty-seven, they still feel too hard.


(Odysseus and Pyrrhus on the randomness of glory)
Odysseus inclines his head. “True. But fame is a strange thing. Some men gain glory after they die, while others fade. What is admired in one generation is abhorred in another.” He spread his broad hands. “We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory. Who knows?” He smiles. “Perhaps one day even I will be famous. Perhaps more famous than you.”
“I doubt it.”
Odysseus shrugs. “We cannot say. We are men only, a brief flare of the torch. Those to come may raise us or lower us as they please.”

The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap by Paulette Mahurin

I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the author.

Gus looked over at the
stacks of books. “That’s why I read so much. A book isn’t going to hurt me. A
book isn’t going to form some opinion about me that could wreck my life. I
learn about so many new and great things from reading. I keep to myself with a
good book and a shot of whiskey and I’m right with the world.”


About the author: The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap is written by author Paulette Mahurin, who is
a Nurse Practitioner and lives in Ojai, California. She practices women’s health in a rural
clinic and writes in her spare time. The book was published in March 2012.

Summary: The story takes place in a small town in Nevada, right after Oscar Wilde was tried and convicted and homosexuality was declared to be a crime. Mildred and Edra are two women who love each other and want to live together. To prevent the townspeople from dragging them to a similarly horrible fate, they devise a plan to keep their relationship a secret. When Mildred, who has always been treated badly by the townsfolk, suddenly begins to show interest in Charley, a widower, they become the latest piece of hateful gossip and rumours. The book goes on to show us the disastrous consequences of prejudice and illogical hatred.

“He was frustrated by the ignorance he saw all around him, the lack of compassion and understanding, even worse the complete poverty of any comprehension that a poison lived inside these individuals and as long as they kept pointing fingers and saw their hatred outside of themselves, nothing would come but destruction.”

My thoughts: As soon as I got the book, I sat glued to my computer and finished reading it by the time it was absolutely necessary for me to go eat something. It’s been a long time since I read a book in one sitting. This is a very involving story that just draws you in completely and keeps you on the edge of your seat, eager to find out what happens next. It is a short but powerful read that manages to convey a lot of meaning in so few pages.

The characterization is brilliant. There were times when I felt like kicking some of the nosy characters myself and realized how effectively the writer had brought that feeling out in me. I love how the author has conveyed the most important messages, that sense of helplessness in the victims through dialogue between the characters instead of describing it. Being a huge Oscar Wilde fan, I found the discussions about his conviction especially touching and the way people were against him, especially irritating. Not to mention, the quotes by Wilde at the start of every chapter were wonderful.

Though the book is set in 1895, it is painfully relevant even today. This story ends on a relatively happy note, but it is crushing to think that most cases of oppression don’t end all that well. The story presents all the different clashing points of view (in a biased fashion, maybe), but the point, for me, was not to show what is right and wrong. What the book suggests is to think before forming opinions, to honestly question your beliefs.

I would have liked it better if the back-stories of the characters were revealed in a less abrupt way and the author hadn’t kept switching the narration back and forth in time – these things were noticeable while reading the first half of the book, but once I got to the very end, they didn’t really matter much. Some books just deserve to be read by everyone, and this is one of those!

You can buy the book here, and also visit the Facebook page for more information.

I’ll leave you with another wonderful idea to chew on, since the book has so many of those.

How I was raised is
irrelevant. It’s how I feel now. What do I believe now? What has experience
taught me? Have I used my head to look for myself? Or am I a puppet to someone
else’s ideas?