The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I didn't get a chance to read this before it won the Orange Prize for 2012, but this year was a remarkable year for fiction written by women in the countries that qualify for that particular list. I would have been happy to see it go to Esi Edugyan or Anne Enright based on reading their nominated novels, and I haven't had chance to read the Harding or Patchett yet. I don't disagree with the decision to award it to this novel, and even better, this is Madeline Miller's first!
In The Iliad, the character of Achilles is devastated by the death of his comrade/friend Patroclus, and Miller explores the history of that emotional response in this novel. She explores the idea of a romantic relationship quite believably, starting with a boyhood friendship after Patronclus is banished from his home.
Hearing it described as so rooted in Greek mythology, you may be turned off from reading this. I know I was. The last time I read The Iliad was in high school, and I worried I would be lost. On the contrary, this was very readable, and I zoomed through it in an afternoon. The author is clearly knowledgeable about the classics, but also manages to make everyone in the story relatable and interesting. I felt myself feeling along with Patronclus as Achilles starts down his path of heroism.
I found a few reviews in GoodReads that come from people more knowledgeable about the original subject matter than me, and I think reading them will bring you understanding the way they did. Thank you Judith and Richard!