A lyrical exploration of the Greek hero Achilles, this short novel by Elizabeth Cook reads like an epic poem.
Just over a hundred pages in length, the story is told in three parts. The first deals directly with Achilles and his exploits. The second describes the aftermath of Achilles’ death and the fall of Troy. Finally, the short third section, more like an epilogue, features the English poet Keats and examples how the tragic life and death of Achilles continues to inspire.
Drawn to anything Greek myth related, I’ve read a variety of stories, good and bad, that either retell the myths, expand upon them, or present elements of them in modern times. This has to be one of the strongest I have read. The prose is beautifully crafted and powerful. With a mythical resonance, it’s steeped with vivid images and reads like a dream unfolding in our minds.
Here’s an example passage (from page 62) that presages the beginning of Thetis’ lament:
A terrible sound. A great wailing. A keening that never seems to exhaust itself but which moves in waves, each fuller than the one before. The sea has altered. Where before it was one bright blue, broken only by myriad jagged flashes of sunlight, it is darker now. Purple waves, green ones, waves of a deeper blue roll in, one on top of the other, lipping it, chasing it, waves pouring in as if to flood the beach. As if racing to drown every creature that remains on the beach.
A goddess of the sea, Thetis is a Achilles’ mother, and her scenes, especially the gathering of her son’s bones, are heartrending and powerfully told, like an archetypal account of a mother’s grief.
Many have heard of Achilles, the valiant nearly immortal hero who fought and killed the great Hector during the Trojan War. They are likely familiar with his one vulnerability, his heel, and perhaps know other elements of his story. Achilles famously refused to fight for the Greeks when Agamemnon stole his war prize, the princess Briseis, and his rage and grief for his slain friend and likely lover Patroclus. But there is so much more. And a great deal of it is presented here.
I will say Elizabeth Cook’s Achilles is for lovers and advanced readers of Greek mythology. Those not familiar with the Trojan war or Greek mythology will stumble through the prose. A glossary of classical names is included but many of them may not be familiar to more casual readers.
Still I can’t help but recommend this book. I think students (and this is not limited to those actively in school) of poetry, literature, and Greek mythology in particular will find the language and story absorbing.