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3.63  ·  Rating details ·  589 Ratings  ·  72 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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Aug 13, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mythologies
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
Feb 18, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mythology
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
Eeehhh. Nah.
Apr 17, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The final chapter on Keats ties it all together; this is about early death and about immortality, poetic and otherwise, and in that context it's really sad and really touching. Up to then it had been a somewhat disjointed retelling of Achilles's life and death and others' reactions to that, with some slightly awkward phrases but a remarkable and lovely sympathy and generosity towards Thetis, Deidameia, Penthesileia, Briseis, Iphigeneia and Helen. (it's so nice to see something which doesn't vili ...more
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
Oct 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
An evocative retelling of the story of Achilles. It begins with him in Hades then tells his story from birth to death and beyond. The novella was a glorious, intense prose-poem. I especially liked the childhood of Helen; episode of Chiron, the wounded centaur and healer making Achilles' ash spear; and the meeting of Achilles and Priam. I thought any connection of Keats with the story was tenuous at best and did not see why the author even included it. Did I miss something?

Recommended but for the
Feb 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was a fun read. It was a little short and I wish there were more details about Achilles' life.
Apart from that, I enjoyed the book and the style of writing the author used.
Jun 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars. I really enjoyed 2/3 of this short novel but was mostly lost on how the last third related to the rest. I'll have to do some research one of these days. It's mostly a retelling of the Achilles story, though other figures (e.g. Helen and Chiron) tell their stories, too. The narrative style is more a series of vignettes than a point A to point B narrative, though as a whole the first 2/3 has an overarching storyline. A quick read and mostly enjoyable.
I really liked the story of Achilles. It was told in a very memorable way. I keep forgetting the Greek myths, and I doubt I'll forget this one. The last section, Relay, was more difficult to appreciate. I get it that Keats is the connection to Achilles, but I didn't understand all the allusions. Still is was a good read of a very old story, told in a very readable fashion.
Jan 05, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful poetic writing. However, this flowing style sure muddies up comprehension when it switches perspective, or moves back and forth through time. Also, the last chapter really didn't work for me.
Jose Marquez
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Muy interesante este libro para los amantes de la mitología griega; de lectura súper adictiva, enlaza los mitos de Aquiles en un ciclo de vida no de un mortal humano sino de un nieto de Zeus
Kim Zinkowski
Nov 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is gorgeously written, and the amount of unnecessary rape scenes would make GoT writers blush.
I would love to recommend it to everyone who is into poetic prose, but at the same time it is triggering as hell so please proceed with extreme caution.
May 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  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 don't really know how to feel about this book?

It was beautifully poetic at times but in others it was the exact opposite, and the transition between the two is rather jarring for the most part. I felt the chapter on Keats was disconnected from the rest of the story and was really unnecessary with the way it was done.

There were elements of the story that I didn't particularly like, such as the acknowledgement that Patroclus and Achilles were lovers but their physical relationship wasn't sh
Jul 09, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: greece-and-rome
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
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
Rich Lambe
Aug 29, 2016 rated it liked it
I have been fascinated by the story of the siege of Troy for years; I bought this book years ago and finally got around to reading it.
It is quite short, more of a novella than a book, so I reluctantly paid 6.99 for it.
It reminds me more of a poem than a story so in that way it echoes the original (the Iliad) more closely.

When the river roars at him Achilles jumps in, ready to take him on. Scamander clasps him, grabs him by the throat, and rises in a tower above his head.
Like a slab of rock over
Rob Cook
Feb 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
a. lynn
Nov 14, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: derivative
The first chapter is phenomenal. It takes place during the Odyssey, when Odyseus summons the dead to ask for help/advice and we get to see Achilles and Patroclus among the summoned dead. This is the best part of the book. It won't be this good again. Afterwords, Cook descends into a poetic summary of Achilles part in the Trojan war, skipping some things, and (for some reason) describing every rape that happens over its course. I suggest rereading that first chapter, as it is wonderful, and forge ...more
Jul 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully written, moving account of the life of the hero Achilles. Descriptions of rape and the rituals of burial are particularly vivid. I confess I was grateful for the glossary of classical names at the back of the book, since it is many years since I have delved into the Iliad.
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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What's The Name o...: SOLVED. Novelization of the Iliad/Odyssey [s] 7 120 Nov 18, 2009 08:02AM  
  • Homer's Daughter
  • War Music: An Account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer's Iliad
  • Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad
  • Ransom
  • The Fall of Troy
  • Age Of Bronze Volume 3A: Betrayal (Part One)
  • The Songs of the Kings
  • The Fall of Troy
  • Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore
  • The Return from Troy
  • Helen in Egypt
  • Alcestis
  • The Memoirs of Helen of Troy
  • The Lost Books of The Odyssey
  • The King Must Die (Theseus, #1)
  • The Gates of Troy (Adventures of Odysseus, #2)
  • Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides
  • The Trojan War
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
More about Elizabeth Cook...

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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.” 12 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.” 2 likes
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