Review: The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles Madeline Miller
  • Title: The Song of Achilles
  • Author: Madeline Miller
  • Genre: Historical fiction / Mythology
  • Year: 2011
  • Synopsis: Achilles, “the best of all the Greeks,” son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful, irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods’ wrath. They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.

I feel that all has already been said regarding this book, so I’ll keep this review brief. It is a beautiful retelling of The Iliad, told from Patroclus’ point of view. Even if you’ve already read The Iliad, I promise this book will captivate you.

The relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is magnetic, blissful, and heartbreaking all at the same time. Here we witness how their friendship and relationship evolve as they grow. I knew how the ending would go, but I was still hoping that they’d be given the chance to have a life together because they deserved it.

Madeline Miller’s prose is remarkable, the words flow like poems within paragraphs. And Patroclus’ narration cuts the gap between the characters and the reader, making you feel a part of the story. I deliberately read the book slower than usual because I did not want it to end.

If you like greek mythology and romance, this is book is for you. And even if these genres aren’t your type, give The Song of Achilles a try, it will not disappoint. It’s my first time reading a book by the author and it certainly won’t be the last.

Overall rating: 5 / 5

“We were like gods at the dawning of the world, & our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.”

Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles

Review: Play It As It Lays

  • Title: Play It As It Lays
  • Author: Joan Didion
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Year: 1970
  • Synopsis: A ruthless dissection of American life in the late 1960s, Play It as It Lays captures the mood of an entire generation, the ennui of contemporary society reflected in spare prose that blisters and haunts the reader. Set in a place beyond good and evil – literally in Hollywood, Las Vegas, and the barren wastes of the Mojave Desert, but figuratively in the landscape of an arid soul – it remains more than three decades after its original publication a profoundly disturbing novel, riveting in its exploration of a woman and a society in crisis and stunning in the still-startling intensity of its prose.

This is my first time reading a book by Joan Didion. In recent months, her books have been everywhere on bookstagram, and with her recent passing I became curious of her work. Now, let me be honest, I’m not sure how to feel about this book. It has a resemblance to The Bell Jar due to the bleak depiction of the protagonist’s mental health, Maria Wyeth.

The book focuses on a stage in Maria’s life where she feels that nothing makes sense and we witness a decline and the forms of self-destruction which she seeks. Everything is exposed through loose fragments, in a minimalist way. These small scenes add up to a whole, where the reader must make the connections since it’s not explicit in the narration. At first glance there seems to be no message whatsoever, but it will depend on the interpretation you give it.

This book did not turn out to be very much of my liking because of my sensitivity to certain scenes. Some parts made me feel a bit sick, similar to the way The Bell Jar made me feel the first time I tried reading it. However, I managed to finish it because I did enjoy Joan Didion’s style, which I found unique. So regardless of my thoughts on this book, I plan on reading more by the author. 

*Trigger warning: suicide, domestic violence, abortion

Overall rating: 3 / 5

Review: Winter

  • Title: Winter
  • Author: Ali Smith
  • Genre: Contemporary Fiction
  • Year: 2017
  • Synopsis: Winter? Bleak. Frosty wind, earth as iron, water as stone, so the old song goes. When four people, strangers and family, converge on a fifteen-bedroom house in Cornwall for Christmas, will there be enough room for everyone?

Winter is the second part of Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet, the first being Autumn. Although it is not a continuation, it feels as if it were, given the style it maintains.

First of all, don’t be fooled by this picture or the book cover, it’s not a Christmassy story nor the type of story that transmits a warm holiday spirit. Quite the opposite. It focusses on the cold and bleakness that winter brings upon holiday season, both literally and figuratively.

Some parts of the story were funny, making me laugh out loud. But other parts were rather sombre, depicting aspects of life that range from distressful to uneventful.

Memories from the past, the present, and surrealism are all blurred together. Ali Smith combines social, political, and cultural references with the lives of the characters, all while including many puns that you must be looking out for.

I feel that this review is nowhere near doing justice for this book. But it’s definitely worth the read. I cannot wait until I read the rest of the seasonal quarter. And yes, I’ll wait for spring and summer respectively.

Overall rating: 4 / 5

Review: I am I am I am

I am I am I am book review Maggie O'Farrell
  • Title: I am I am I am
  • Author: Maggie O’Farrell
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Year: 2017
  • Synopsis: An astonishing memoir of the near-death experiences that have punctuated and defined her life. Seventeen discrete encounters with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, reveal a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. In taut prose that vibrates with electricity and restrained emotion, O’Farrell captures the perils running just beneath the surface, and illuminates the preciousness, beauty, and mysteries of life itself.

Maggie O’Farrell narrates her many near-death experiences in this memoir. I liked her writing style, it was engaging and easy to follow along. The reflections she shares upon these experiences are thought provoking, making you realize how fragile we all really are. 

The chapters are not in chronological order and they’re titled by the physiological part of the body that was at risk during that moment. I expected a sequential retelling, the years are actually disorganized and don’t seem to follow a specific pattern. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the way it turned out.

While reading this, I was astonished because how can a person come near to death so many times? Some events were not so life threatening, others really were. Some were the result of the author’s behavior, while others were completely out of her control. At times, it felt O’Farrell was narrating a nightmare or a scene from the Final Destiny franchise movies — but no, it’s her life. All of these events did happen.

I also kept thinking that she must have really bad luck. But what does luck mean? She’s a successful writer, has the family she hoped for, and she survived each stroke of death, whether aware of the danger or not. Maybe she’s the lucky one after all. 

Overall rating: 4 / 5

Review: The Clockmaker’s Daughter

Kate Morton La hija del relojero

The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a historical fiction novel written by Kate Morton. The story is about a group of young artists who in 1862 spent a few weeks in Birchwood Manor. By the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared. Over a hundrer years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London comes across a leather bag that contains two objects: an artist’s sketchbook containing a drawing of a house and the photograph of a woman. Why does all of this seem so familiar to Elodie? And who is the woman in the photograph?

It’s the fourth novel I read by Kate Morton. They all follow a similar pattern: a mysterious death or disappearance that occurred decades (or centuries) ago will try to be resolved by a character from the present. And there’s always a tinge of romance.

There was a real ghost and some supernatural elements involved in this story. I felt it would’ve been a great opportunity to experiment with some magic realism. But there wasn’t much detail on these elements, which upset me a bit.

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Review: Good morning, midnight

Good Morning Midnight Lily Brooks-Dalton Olivine Books Review

Good morning, midnight is a beautifully written novel following two characters. Augustine, an elderly astronomer who resides in the Artic alone, since his team evacuated a year ago due to war rumors, but he chose to stay. And Sully, an astronaut who is returning to Earth after she and her crew visited Jupiter. They meet briefly from a distance but are more connected than they believe. 

Sully’s chapters were my favorites. One of the aspects that got me hooked was the romance — or rather the possibility of it happening later on, although it’s not the focus of the novel. The story is about what it means to be human, loneliness, and dealing with the past and emotions. 

Augustine’s chapters felt a bit bland in my opinion. And in both storylines, the descriptions became somewhat repetitive. 

Also, it’s not your typical sci-fi novel full of action. It’s character-driven and filled with introspection. Things start to get interesting towards the end which was a bummer to not be able to find out what happened afterward.

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