Book Review — The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

Madeline Miller has a way with words. Reading The Song of Achilles was like swaying with the waves, the ocean lapping at you and the peace making you one with the environment. It was soothing, inviting and towards the end, a surge of emotions. I hadn’t felt this connected to a book in the longest time and so, was more than eager to get swept up in Patroclus’ narration. Told from his point of view, the novel builds a timeline of events that have seen Patroclus and Achilles together, wrapped in a cocoon of love and support for one another. While we are introduced to Patroclus as a young boy of 9 years age, floundering under his father’s decision to present him as a suitor for Princess Helen, it is much later that he grows into an individual in his own right.

The author delivers the story of Patroclus and Achilles with such beauty, as to absorb us into the book, unable to set it down even for one moment. I was especially convinced of her genius when the scenes pertaining to war and politics, instead of diminishing my interest, furthered my desire to know more of what had transpired. In all its unabashed honesty, Miller depicts the foolishness of humans; the manner in which the pride and prejudice of kings have ushered in their downfall. Bound to the story with ropes of intrigue and awe, I kept wishing that Achilles had had more clarity of thought, allowing him to assess the situation better and take decisions that might have (sort of?) prevented a great deal of mishap. One thing you’re going to have to keep in mind is that this novel mentions a large number of mythological figures, which means atleast a hundred Greek names bouncing off your mind. They weren’t easy for me to remember, particularly the names of the secondary characters. But rest assured, the twenty or so important ones will remain in your memory.

It was a mesmerizing thing indeed to read about Patroclus and how he changes from an ordinary, under-confident lad to one who stands up for people, knows his worth in war and is incredibly courageous. Achilles’ character arc, on the other hand, takes a surprising dip. I like the inclusion of Briseis’ character. She plays a pivotal role in Achilles’ life and brings a new dynamic to Patroclus’ identity. The Song of Achilles is abundant with themes of love, politics, greed, slavery, monarchy to name a few. On the whole, it was such a pleasant experience reading about the eternal nature of Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship. I can’t believe that I put off reading it for so long. Now that I have, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that this has become one of my all time favourites. Highly recommend it to those who enjoy reading mythological fiction. PICK. IT. UP. NOW.

Rating – 5 out of 5 stars (and more!)

What do you get out of this book? An epic story about two epic characters from Greek mythology, with a dash of romance, politics and friendship.

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Book Review — Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Will Grayson is overshadowed by his friend Tiny Cooper. The second Will Grayson is pining over Issac, a boy whose virtual presence is a blissful respite. Then Tiny Cooper goes and makes a play about a certain Phil Rayson which inevitably upsets Will. Simultaneously, a plan to meet Issac goes horribly wrong and upsets the other Will. Both Will Graysons, existing in a space contrary to one another, are distraught. Somehow, they meet each other and from there, it’s only an uphill climb.

This being my first John Green book was an absolute delight. The writing is hearty and while depicting very realistic people with genuine struggles, makes you fall in love with the story. David Levithan’s chapters were more blunt and unrestrained, in the sense that it portrayed the second Will Grayson as being stark, a little hard hearted. The chapters altered between both Will Graysons’ perspectives and was a welcome change of thoughts. While the theme of homosexuality is explored largely, we also come to terms with concepts like independence, unconditional friendship and irrevocable mistakes. Even though Will gets mad at Tiny numerous times, their friendship is far removed from trivial fights. In that, Will not only commends Tiny’s confidence and kind heart, but is also able to get past his annoyance at Tiny eventually. Tiny Cooper, though associated to both the main characters, shines through like a protagonist. His rapidly changing love life does not deter him in the least bit and when the time comes, does not prevent him from making a more heartfelt commitment. Both the Will Graysons are able to grow exponentially due to Tiny’s interference in their lives. The novel doesn’t speak much about their respective families and I guess its alright, because they all come together like one big family. The play that Tiny takes charge of ends on a brilliant note and is representative of the wonder that Tiny is. Will Grayson and Maura’s friendship is typical in a lot of ways and it was sort of predictable. I flew through this book and enjoyed every bit of it. I just wish the ending had been a little more elaborate and less ambiguous. But I definitely recommend this to all contemporary lovers out there. A fun, well packaged story.

Ratings – 4 stars on 5.

Meera

Book Review — Seahorse by Janice Pariat

In Seahorse, Janice Pariat weaves a hauntingly captivating tale of a wandering soul looking to fill the void left by unsatisfactory familial relations, newfound self perceptions and a lackluster lifestyle. Nehemiah is an English Major student of Delhi University whose grief upon the loss of a loved one is swept aside through his interactions with a professor from his college. Nicholas becomes more than just a confidante to Nem and so his sudden disappearance leaves Nem devastated. Years later, an anonymous message sends Nem on a frantic chase to look for Nicholas and seek answers to questions that have been brewing in his mind all along.

I picked this up for a book club and the synopsis was so intriguing I had no doubts about starting it as soon as I got it. This book is unique in the way it is formatted as well as the writing style. It has no chapters but is sectioned into three parts. The way the novel is phrased doesn’t give you a distinct beginning, middle and end. There are tons of flashbacks used; some so abruptly placed, it took me a while to realize that it was a scene from Nem’s past. Pariat’s writing style is fluid and mesmerizing. Lines and paragraphs felt like waves lapping over my mind, receding and leaving their essence behind. Nem’s story is a tad bit draggy and simplistic. It is not fast paced or thrilling and so I had to make an effort to keep reading. But every time I thought I should take a break, some metaphoric line or philosophical quote would pull me back in. The main USP of this book would probably be that it is a retelling of Poseidon and Pelops’ myth. However, I didn’t know the backstory so I had nothing to compare this retold version with. Themes of homosexuality, estrangement, death, betrayal are explored in this novel. While I didn’t feel compelled to read the book, there was so much intensity and content in it that I wanted to finish it. Many a times I sympathized with Nem for he appeared to be so lonely and needy. His family too seemed rigid and not very loving. I didn’t love the book, neither did I hate it. Nem’s story is far removed from such matters of fluctuating choices we readers make. There was something increasingly motionless about the story – like a still lake. If you are philosophical or like retellings, you should give Seahorse a try.

Ratings – 3 stars on 5.

– Meera

 

Book Review — Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Thank You very much Simon Pulse and Edelweiss for this opportunity to review the book. 

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld is a fantasy novel that takes the readers on a roller coaster ride between the lives of Darcy Patel and Lizzie Scofield. Simply putting it, it is a story within a story. Darcy Patel, a budding novelist is overwhelmed at the magnanimity of the book publishing process. Surrounded by famous writers and other intimidating personnel, she is uncertain about how well received her book will be, once she is able to get across the drastic measures of rewriting Afterworlds, her brain child. Putting a hold on her education, she travels to New York, keen to establish a life for herself. There she meets Imogen Gray, a fellow writer caught in the midst of her second and third book. Darcy and Imogen develop a close relationship and soon begin to live together. But in the world of print, where every day a new novel is being published and the editors seem like preying hawks – will Darcy be able to return home with success draping her every step?

Lizzie Scofield is the protagonist of Darcy’s novel, whose life changes tenfold on her way back home. At the airport there’s a terrorist attack and Lizzie’s soul takes the brunt of the stress and trauma pervading the atmosphere. Soon she is witness to the spiritual realm which complicates her life and distances her from her family and friends. But she meets the God of Death, Yama, and is able to lean on him for support when everything else seems like a façade. This kind of knowledge brings about an awareness of the “afterworld” and its unsolved mysteries. With power comes responsibility and so Lizzie must decide whether to right all wrongs thereby putting herself at risk or let the balance of good & bad play itself out.

I don’t normally take a month to finish a book, particularly one that has a plot as brilliant as this one. The idea of a book within a book – genius move by Scott Westerfeld! But what it lacked the most is a drive, an agent that pushes the reader onto the next page. Frankly speaking, I haven’t been able to read more than 40 pages a day till the first half of the book. After that I flew through it, loving Darcy’s experiences and yearning for the same as a budding writer. Her lesbian relationship with Imogen wasn’t expected but it did come across stronger than what you’d think. Even though it isn’t new, the whole “ghost whisperer” aspect worked out with the help of Yama, the God of Death as per Hindu mythology. Being a Hindu myself, I didn’t quite understand why the author picked a God of Death, that too someone as fierce as Yamaraj and portray him as being soft, kind hearted and a very non-aggressive character. I was puzzled by that and at times I thought it would get mind boggling to follow two different yet interwoven stories,  but it was actually fun. Scott Westerfeld’s writing is really easy to follow and it gives you a vivid image of exactly what he is seeing in his mind which was a plus point. I could see Lizzie walking around the flipside with Mindy, the friendly ghost. I only wish it was a little more compelling and fast paced. Apart from that it is a decent read. I don’t know if I would recommend it to everyone but fans of the supernatural, grab a copy, see if it works out better for you than it did for me.

Ratings – 3 stars on 5.

Mia