I bought the book almost by chance. That day I went to a new book shop with a small ads outside that read “3 paperback novels with just 150.000 VND”. As an editor, I find myself a bit picky, for I have a great many books and manuscripts to read, to evaluate and to edit. Life is too short for bad books, as one editor has put it. But I have to spare time for those bad books that I never want to touch my hands on if I can, yet I, somehow, manage to read because they are what I am paid for. And on top of that, I also write quite positive reviews on them. What a liar I am. :v And, I chose it.
I read it as the first book in 2015, while I am snowed under with work. I read it in almost two days, which was, for me, pretty fast. I made an excuse that I read to find inspiration to edit books, and to write blurbs, things like that. The book tells the love story between Patroclus, a weak and reserved prince, who, at the age of nine, accompanied his father as a suitor to Helen, a beautiful princess whom a lot of kings wanted and who was the cause of the decade-long Trojan war, and Achilles, a demigod who was born to be the best warrior of his time. The story is set against the backdrop of the Trojan war. Almost five first chapters are dedicated to tell how Patroclus ended up in Achilles’ kingdom, and how beautiful Achilles was in the eyes of desperate, humble Patroclus. How did the author manage to describe Achilles so wholly with such many perspectives and approving adjectives? The story goes on when Patroclus ran with his bare feet to join Achilles on the way to Pelion, where Master Chiron, a sage centaur, lived. And it was in Pelion that their love blossomed in their coming of ages. And then, the war broke out, and things would never be the same. Having been engaged in an oath to protect Helen of Sparta, Patroclus, a one-time prince, then had to go to war with Troy. It was when Achilles said to Patroclus what might constitute one of the most haunting pieces of dialogues in the book: “If you have to go, I will go with you.” But Thetis, Achilles’ mother, a sea-nymph, did not want him to go to Troy, brought the beautiful prince to Scyros, a far-off island where she had him get married to the local princess, with whom he had sex two times with the hope that his mother would tell Patroclus where he was. After a while, Patroclus succeeded in finding his lover in a strange dance where Achilles was dressed in women’s clothings, because “I could recognise him by touch alone, by smell, I would know him blind, byt the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.” Petroclus told. I find it quite awkward when Patroclus had sex with Deiameida, the princess of Scyros, who then bore in her womb the son of Achilles. It was quite out of the way and did not contribute much to the plot. But it might be the thing that helped to prove, once again, that Patroclus only loved Achilles and vice versa, which it was also the case when Patroclus kissed Briseis, who was the prize for Achilles when the army carried out raids outside Troy city. Whatever it was, one must have an intrinsic need to have a child of one’s own, I think. And yet, the book doesn’t have many sex scenes to tell about.
And then, into the war, Achilles was devoured by his own longing for fame and for being remembered, he lost himself, he was not like who he had been. Things changed. Some popular names like Agamemnon, King of Priam and, perhaps most famous, Odyseus were mentioned too. And what I learned is that Odyseus was much more like a prudent politician than a hero in this book and that wars are always games of power in which such trusting heroes like Achilles and Patroclus who believed in a great cause of justice and honour and the grass roots are betrayed for the benefits of power-insatiable beasts. Wars, as a result of politics, which is itself seemingly born out of the most inhumaine aspects of human life, are great betrayals.
Along the way, I once thought that men can love each other as easily with their born inners and I wondered that if it was the social customs and expectations and norms which were set deep in the minds of those in that society that made a group that we called pédérastie (with the disapproving meaning we know today)? Does such a group not exist if love among men are unquestionably acceptable? Is it that they were born thinking they love men then they are girls, they are weak and like singing and painting instead of fighting around then they are féminin? And then they act out like women, to love a man at last. Do they really want to wear dress and walk swaying if they know they can really love a man with masculin behaviours without any harm to their love? I doubt it. Back to the point, Achilles and Patroclus died after all, in their prime time, at the end of the book, I don’t want to spoil it but it’s the ending that everyone knows, however it should be read for ones to enjoy it, to get lost in the sweet love story in the age of ancient Greek cities and gods. The book is so richly descriptive that ones can feel like they can see real tunics, real spears and real battleships, ones can think they feel the skin, the calluses on the characters’ hands. It is the author’s debut, for which she was awarded the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012. The first experiment of an aspiring writer that worths a try. And lastly, it is really a page-turner, so, don’t start reading it if you are too busy, you can’t put it down. 😀
And I think I will keep it for myself, to read it as a reader, not as an editor, for as the latter, I will soon lose my joy in reading, and so and so… For a long time now I have managed to fight back my desire to be the editor of the Vietnamese translation of a book I have read for my own sake and unintendedly liked. To tell whether a book is commercially viable and should be published or not, for me, is like throwing a stone into the Grand Canyon, as an American poet whose name I can’t remember once said about publishing a collection of poems today. Well, I finished reading it, and it’s time to go back to work or I will be dead on the line, which is undoubtedly not a happy ending. =))