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3.66 of 5 stars 3.66  ·  rating details  ·  414 ratings  ·  56 reviews
Born of the sea-nymph Thetis by the mortal King Peleus, hidden as a girl on Skiros until Odysseus discovers him, Achilles becomes the Greek's greatest warrior at Troy. This text retells the legend of Achilles.
Published February 7th 2002 by Methuen Publishing (first published 2001)
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The first part of this novella (107 pages in my edition) almost - almost - had me sympathizing with Achilles, and then he goes and murders and rapes Penthiseleia:

"Now he pins her down, all his hurt, unmet tenderness turned to indignation. He bends back her fingers to make her release the flint and she makes those fingers her weapons, tearing his face, stabbing at eyes. His knee bent across her ribs, holding her down, he covers her face with one hand, the heel of the other hand cradling the back
Poetic is exactly the word I would use to describe Elizabeth Cook's Achilles - it is very easy to see her background in poetry shining through her words. Cook has boiled down the life of the greatest of Homer's heroes to just over 100 pages, each word and phrase weighted with marvelous spirit and meaning.

For the most part, Achilles is a beautifully written and bewitching read. There are however a few pieces of literary oddities. Cook tends to follow a beautiful turn of phrase with vulgarity tha
Asma Fedosia
The writing focused on Achilles, hero at Troy and known for his vulnerable Achilles' heel. Unconstraint and imagination of the prose had Achilles do fantastic feats from Homeric epic and explored his disposition. Except for the ending, the story is set in about 1200 B.C. Troy, then breaks off and enters British Romanticism in early 1800s. In London, the reader is in the surgical theater of Astley Cooper with Keats among the students and with a corpse. Btw, Keats wrote "On First Looking into Chap ...more
The first "chapter" was beyond amazing; poetic, sad, fragile in many was perfect, and I fell in love with it. However, the second Achilles is revealed to be a boy, the writing changes and becomes more brutal, less magic. The dilemma is, of course, is that on purpose or not (writing becoming masculine as the child goes from occupying a space between the genders to being set as male)? Even if it was a conscious decision, it still mars the book in many ways, I feel. The Keats "chapter" is ...more
So much sexual assault/rape. Why? I mean, Thetis and Peleus - okay, I get it, it's a story about Achilles and that's where he started. Okay. Fine. It was still disturbing but go ahead, it's your book.

But so much uncomfortable violation that wasn't necessary. I enjoyed it mildly but I kept getting yanked out of the story by wondering when the next rape scene would be sprung on me. I just... why?

I'm doomed to overly artistic Achilles wordage from authors who think they're the literary lovechild of
It's a hard book to understand, emotionally or in meaning. Especially for the 21st century, where we now realize rape is morally unacceptable and most wouldn't be able to kill someone with as much ease as these less-evolved men. I asked myself, in what sort of mind-set are we supposed to read such an angering story? But it seems we should look at history and see all the mistakes as well as the achievements. Achilles is many things, good or bad at different times. These characters are not perfect ...more
A poetic retelling of the story of Achilles. I *really* liked the first 4/5 of this beautifully written work, which opens with Achilles being called up out of the underworld by Odysseus. The language was beautiful, and it had some really interesting insights into the characters. I was, however, quite put off by the end section, which is about Keats. Yes. For one thing, I didn't know anything about Keats, and had no idea why that section was there; for another, I think it's simply distracting. Bu ...more
Carolyn Ma
It's a wonder that I can read about Achilles so many times and not get bored. The writing was beautiful, and the story was somehow still captivating, even though I knew what was going to happen.

The sex scenes were disturbing since they're pretty much all rape scenes, but I feel like you have to acknowledge that in a lot of these stories, the women probably were raped. I liked that Cook didn't glorify that and try to make it seem like a romance, and it also highlighted how ridiculous it was that
Rob Cook
A beautifully written book, a vividly sensory encapsulation of the life of Homer's rage-fuelled hero. Barely a novel, more a prose-poem, the perfectly chosen details offered in all the various and intimately captured rhythms of childhood and war, fear and learning, jealousy and grief enable us to inhabit not only Achilles's life and mind but those of his mother, Thetis, of Chiron his teacher, of Helen of Troy and of Penthiseleia of the Amazons. And, at the end, of John Keats. The doomed poet's c ...more
Jay McNair
This is a fictional retelling of Achilles's story, bringing in Keats for instance. Dense like poetry, but short—less than a hundred pages. It invents whole scenes, I think, from passing references in the sources. But still feels like it skims. I didn't like the self-conscious beauty of each sentence. I didn't trust it. Probably more interesting than the original—no long Homeric lists—but I couldn't really answer the question "why read this version."

I really liked the opening vision though, of tw
Jun 17, 2013 Jennifer rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Trina
I didn't read every word of this book. I read several long passages and skimmed others. I read this, Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles, The Iliad, AND The War that Killed Achilles over the past month and risked ODing on Achilles.

But the powerful poetic language of this slim volume, telling stories from the life of Achilles taken from the Iliad, the Odyssey and from the Aeneid, was simply stunning. For those who already are familiar with the classical stories, this short, moving volume should be
I'm tempted to conclude that it's a mistake to take these stories out of a mythic register. Modern retellings work best when they retain a sense of incantation, otherworldliness, and distance from the present, as this one does (versus the recent Orange-winning The Song of Achilles ). A bit too slight to be wholly satisfying, though there are some lovely bits:
Patroclus alone is humbled by Achilles' love. Only a fool thinks that to be more loved than loving gives power. Only a fool vaunts it and
Abi Walton
I liked this book a lot the only reason i couldn't make 3.5 stars into 4 is that i felt that it didn't have the emotional connection I needed Achilles to have to Patroclus although I love this quote "Patroclus-who loves Achilles but not so much as he iix loved."
its very short and it is written almost how Homer writes the Iliad in beautiful poetic language. I love the story between Achilles and Patroclus and anything i can get my hands on about the pair I cannot wait to read.
I really liked this book, kind of funny, but I especially liked the organized glossary of characters and places at the end of the book. It was a useful reference. Nice to read a short story version of part of the Iliad story.
3.5 stars. Though a few parts were hard to get through, there were some really thought provoking passages in this book. I especially enjoyed the musings on Chiron and his wound. Relay, the last chapter, was also very intellectually stimulating.
I'm giving this four stars more because I found Achilles so unusual and interesting than because I thought it accomplished all its goals. Like most modern readers (probably?), I prefer Odysseus to Achilles: it's easier to deal with selfishness and cruelty when accompanied by cunning and an actual goal (and IIRC, everyone Odysseus has sex with wants to have sex with him? not true of Achilles!). But Achilles is iconic, and I'm interested in works exploring this. It seems unlikely that there is ano ...more
When I was thinking of books to read for the myth section of Carl’s challenge I did consider the Iliad, and the Odyssey too, so when I was wandering around the library and stumbled across this book it seemed perfect. And I’m so glad I picked it up; it makes for a really good read.

This is a very poetic novel. And more than a tad post-modern. But don’t be put off, it is beautifully told. Or maybe told is the wrong word. Cook doesn’t really attempt to tell any story, rather she gives us flashes of
This is a book to savour tho' not all of it tastes sweet. I have a feeling that I will be reading it over and over again and that each time it will read differently.
Inconsistent. Some passages are beautifully rendered, but the narrative is quite uneven in others. I'd like to give it 3 1/2 stars and would do so if GR permitted it. Beware: style-wise it's neither poetry nor novel but a blend.
Al least the small part about Achilles and Patroclus near the beginning quite good.
As I read this it felt like the author went into greater detail on the bits of "The Song of Achilles" that didn't get described at length. I really enjoyed this because I do love the stories of Achilles and the Trojan war. This was a short, quick read that I thoroughly liked. However, the last chapter came out of nowhere and threw me off. Going from the tale of the Trojan war and Achilles to British Science and Keats in the span of a blank page was odd and I would like to just skip the last chap ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I'm a fan of most retellings of myth, and particularly those of Achilles and the Iliad. The format of this book was very interesting, and I liked how it viewed the life of Achilles from different perspectives (his father's, his own, his ghost, Helen's, Chiron's). The style was appropriate - at times it read like a play of monologues.

The writing was beautiful, thoughtful and poetic.

But I have to say, I did not get the point of the last bit about Keats, or it's purpose to the text.
Have you ever read something and felt like you somehow missed something important? That's how I felt about this book. I didn't really care for it. I usually give a novel 50-100 pages before giving up and moving on, and this one was only 116 pages, so I did finish it, but I can't think of anyone I'd recommend it to. I also can't think of anything intelligent to say about it, because I really think I missed the point.
Chelsea Perry
OK, here goes. With the exception of the "Girlhood" chapter, this is one of the worst books I have ever tried to read. I know that Cook has poetry background, but that is no excuse for the difficult to follow, jumping around, and overall messiness of this novel. I will not be re-reading nor recommending this to friends any time soon.

To each his own, though.
This slim and poetic novel actually made the character of Achilles make sense to me, no small feat. He becomes a real person here, sympathetic, his motives understandable, rather than the spoiled child with inexplicable passions for battle and Patrocles who we see in The Iliad. Recommended for all interesteed in the Trojan War.
This book was the perfect size for what it was - elaborate, almost poetic writing based on old Greek mythology. I found myself reading and rereading paragraphs, marveling at how clever they were. My only disappointment was with the end. The heart of the story ended rather abruptly and tapered off into some weird side story about Keats (?).
This is a well enough written book but I'm not a big fan of poetry so it was a bit wasted on me. I also don't think it would appeal to a very wide audience as it isn't very detailed so one would have to know a good bit about the mythology to understand a lot of it. It gets a 2 out of 5 mostly because of it's length and lack of depth.
I guess I just don't know my mythology enough to enjoy this book. The language is beautiful but the story is rambling. I want more to happen than what actually does, and sometimes what DOES happen, I'm not sure I understand. I got about partway through before I gave up.

Ah well, onto something else.
Has some very lovely passages and manages to touch (however briefly) upon some of the most interesting themes and oddities of the Iliad, but it frequently cheapens (and calls attention to) itself with crude writing like "AEEEEIIIIEE!!" and "The Trojans shit themselves."
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Elizabeth Cook was born in Gibraltar in 1952, spent her childhood in Nigeria and Dorset, and now lives in East London. She is the editor of the Oxford Authors John Keats and author of Achilles (Methuen and Picador USA), a work of fiction acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic. Her poetry, short fiction and critical reviews have appeared in many journals including Agenda, The London Review of Book ...more
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“He stands apart with Patroclus, his beloved through all eternity, and Patroclus - who loves Achilles but not as much as he is loved - waits for Achilles to move. His deference to Achilles is different from that of others, They honour and respect him, keep a wise distance, because Achilles was better than the rest. Better at being human. Fighting, singing, speaking, raging (oh, he is good at that still). Killing. But Patroclus alone is humbled by Achilles' love. Only a fool thinks that to be more loved than loving gives you power. Only a fool vaunts it and displays his own littleness by bragging to his friends and making capricious demands of his lover. Patroclus isn't a fool. He knows that he is less than Achilles even in this. Humbled by the intensity of Achilles' love he loves him back with all his large, though lesser, heart.” 4 likes
“In spite of Agamemnon Achilles had greeted her clean heart. She decided, not her father - not even the gods - that she belonged to Artemis. She showed him that the way to make your fate your choice is to choose it, fearlessly, your lungs drinking the air. It makes the gods ashamed.” 1 likes
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