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Posted June 26, 2005
An evening well spent
This short novel was a surprise--one I had tucked in the back of my bookshelf for awhile. The sensual writing in the first few pages makes it a books you can't put down: you can see the two rivers, one bright and one black, taste the crisp, salted fish, smell the smoke from the sacrificial offerings, etc. Cook sets a solemn tone from the very beginning that is just right for the retelling of the Achilles tale. The Keats connection could have been better incorporated, but it helps to make her point about the timeless connections of the human spirit.
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Posted May 4, 2009
A poetic novel, willful and sensual.
There are two kinds of novels about Antiquity: the historical novels like 'Quo Vadis' and 'I, Claudius' and novels about a character from mythology. I prefer the latter because there is more room for fantasy and imagination. In the 1970's the German writer Christa Wolf wrote some outstanding novels about mythology like 'Medea' and 'Cassandra'(the latter translated in English).
And now there is 'Achilles' by Elisabeth Cook. It's a wilful and sensuel novel, about Achilles, one of the Greek commanders who besieged Troy. Peleus, his mortal father, begets him with Thetis, a sea-goddess. (A whole chapter is used to describe a fierce battle between a common man and an immortal woman - it's not very likely he should win but he does).When Achilles was born, Thetis washed him in the river Styx, which made him invulnerable except for a spot at his heel where his mother held him. (Near the end of the Trojan war, Paris kills Achilles by shooting an arrow in his heel)
. E.Cook gives a personal interpretation about Achilles'heel: she explains why it's the fault of his father instead of Thetis' fault.('Blame it on the father!', I've heard it before). These things make the novel worthwile reading: it's not the mythological story-almost everybody knows it-but the descriptions, events and interpretations imagined by E.Cook. One of the highlights of this story is the description of the Trojan river ( or river-god if you like ) Skamander who tries in vain to drown Achilles.
In the last part of the novel, the poet John Keats makes his appearance. Achilles and John Keats had both red hair it seems, but that's not enough to explain the appearance of a completely superfluous personage. Though Keats spoils the fun a little (he's so out of place!) it's a novel interesting enough for those who like Antiquity as the background of a story
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Posted March 3, 2009
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