I was really looking forward to reading The Song of Achilles. It has sold well and is highly regarded, even winning the Orange Prize in 2012. One of my favourite books of 2013 was Tim Leach’s excellent Last King of Lydia – a retelling of Herodotus, that informs and reflects modern day political and social discourse. I was expecting much the same from Achilles, such was the acclaim. Leach’s book hasn’t won any prizes, and I don’t imagine it’s sold by the bucketload from supermarkets, but it is by far the better book.
Perhaps I have been victim of my own expectations (a problem I have often written about), but I found the Song of Achilles little more than ordinary. Having grown up on a diet of swords and sandals (admittedly more often with wizards), I feel the book offered little more than your average genre fare. Manfredi and Gemmell have delivered equally interesting reads set in similar circumstances. Being a retelling of Homer, obviously the story is sound, but whereas Leach’s Lydia is multi-layered and thought provoking, Miller’s Achilles is a simple, flat retelling.
There is nothing wrong with the book. It gets you from A to B via violent filicide. Yes, there’s a wonderful loving relationship in trying circumstances, there’s a tragic ending, there’s pride (so much pride) and there’s a fall (well many falls), but I didn’t find any of it more remarkable than anything I’ve read before. It’s well written, but bar a few of the more colourful details, it could be a retelling for 11 year olds. I guess, it seems a bit churlish to bemoan a book for doing little more than telling a good story, but seeing as it’s not an original story, and it won a prestigious prize, I feel justified in expecting a little more.