The Book That Made Me Cry on the Train home from London to Cardiff -The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

 

Few books reduce me to tears! But on the train home from London reading The Song of Achilles, I was reduced to a sobbing mess!

Miller’s tale of Achilles and Patroclus is an exploration of friendship and love in the time of heroes. Achilles the perfect son and Prince, Patroclus exiled from his own kingdom, becoming the Greek hero’s companion and then lover. They grow up together learning the ways of love and majesty, but when news reaches them of Helen of Sparta’s kidnap, Achilles must go to war and Patroclus torn between fear and love for his prince, must go with him.  The years they spend amongst the horrors of fighting, tests all they hold dear.

It is a deeply moving story narrated from the viewpoint of Patroclus and at its very core it’s a tale about love, sacrifice and devotion. Patroclus as a character managed to seep deep into my soul and his passion for Achilles left me yearning for their love to win through. But it is a bond threatened by war and the whims of the gods.

It’s been a while since I read The Song of Achilles, the overwhelming rush of emotion when I did was so raw, and I’m almost scared to revisit the book. When I recently read the last few lines I could still feel that overwhelming feeling of emotion flood right through me.

Achilles is a flawed and troubled character in Miller’s book and her decision to tell the story from Patroclus point of view is an act of genius. In him we have a man fated to live always in the shadows of the better known Achilles, but in this book he shines.  His love for his childhood friend, gives us a hero who is flawed, but who is worthy of the love of a man who would never choose willingly to leave his side.

“I will never leave him. It will be this, always, for as long as he will let me.”

Patroclus knows Achilles is flawed, caught up in his own notions of honour, but who at the same time, suffers from the troubled insecurities of the ‘hero’ he is meant to be. Despite Achilles human frailties, his selfishness, Miller through Patroclus shows us why he loves him so much.  It is because Patroclus can see through the image of the hero, the son of a king and a goddess, to the man underneath the armour, that we too can love him.

The Song of Achilles will always feature in my top ten books of all time. It has a place in my heart, along with books like Jane Eyre. It is proof positive that books are my ultimate cwtches.

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The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

In October I not only decided to read Waterstones recommeded fiction read, but also the non-fiction book of the month.

The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

Amy Liptrot’s book is a brutally honest tale of her fight against addiction and how she ends up back home in Orkney, having left to seek a future in London away from the claustrophobic limits of island living. In it she gives us an insight into the crippling effect alcholism had on her life and her battle to win back control, while delighting us with descriptions of the stunning wildlife and traditions of life on Orkney.

This is a book that will stay with me for a long time, not just because of the frankness with which she writes about her battle against alcholism, but also the sheer beauty of her writing; which is alternately both delightful, when she describes the natural worlld around her on Orkney and the surrounding islands and candid when writing about her daily struggle against her personal demons. Unlike many memoirs, which to me this is, it is never at any moment self indulgent, a trap so many memoirs of modern ‘celebrities’ fall into.

I found myself eager to know more about the journey she was on to sobriety and her descriptions about life on Orkney made me want to spend time of this and the other islands she visited.

I would recommend this book, which I admit initially attracted my attention because of the beauty of the cover, because Liptrot has so much to teach us. Not just about the natural world around us, but the struggle she and so many others face against addictions. Lives are so often destroyed and yet she not only has survived, she was brave enough to open her journey up to us as readers.

If you read just one non fiction book this year, this touching book should be up there for your consideration.

I read this as a kindle ebook and it is currently priced at £5.22. It is also availble from Waterstones as a paperback for £6.99 and hardback priced at £12.99.