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A Novel

Elizabeth Cook


Achilles Download image

ISBN10: 0312311109
ISBN13: 9780312311100

Trade Paperback

128 Pages



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An Atlantic Montly Best Book of the Year

This beautifully crafted retelling of the epic tale of Achilles recreates Homer's fated hero in a new and striking reality. Born of the Sea nymph Thetis by the mortal King Peleus, and hidden as a girl until Odysseus discovers him, Achilles becomes the Greeks' greatest warrior at Troy. Into his story comes a cast of rich (and sometimes surprising) characters—among them Hector, Helen, Penthiseleia the Amazon Queen, the centaur Chiron, and finally John Keats, whose writings form the basis of a meditation on the nature of identity and shared experience. As a work of fiction, Achilles is also an affirmation of the story's enduring power to reach across centuries and cultures to the core of our imagination.


Praise for Achilles

"This forceful re-creation of the life of Achilles sacrifices nothing to modernity . . . At the same time, this brief, intense novel is unmistakably modern in intent . . . Fragments of keen, almost carnal prose have the cumulative effect of a requiem."—The New Yorker

"[A] dazzling, graphic vision . . . gives splendid new life to this ancient tale."—The Miami Herald

"Erudite, passionate, and not the least bit pretentious. Cook has impressively transformed the legend of Achilles into something entirely her own, a thoroughly modern study of masculinity, mortality, and honor."—Carmela Ciuraru, San Francisco Chronicle

"Everything in this novel, except the number of pages, is larger than life, and in reading it we are returned to our own lives with a sense of larger possibility. This bright, fierce book reminds us that art can be consoling and that, however grievous, however inevitable our losses, we do not bear them alone."—Margot Livesey, The Boston Sunday Globe

"This welcome retelling of Achilles' career—savage yet sensitive, headstrong yet doomed—impels him to death, but Elizabeth Cook's vivid narrative, together with John Keats waiting in the wings, restores the Homeric hero to his rightful, impassioned life."—Robert Fagles, translator of Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey

"Unfailingly modern: swift, cinematic, sexually explicit, and ravishingly beautiful. This poetic masterpiece, a psychologically acute portrait of the Homeric hero Achilles . . . imbues [Homer] with a post-Freudian emotional sensibility, focusing more on the nuances of individual motivation than on the grandeur of the action."—The Atlantic Monthly

"Elizabeth Cook has met the challenge of retelling the Achilles story with thrilling audacity and has given us a novel of great beauty and originality. A heroic book, radiant with intelligence and passion."—Sigrid Nunez, author of For Rouenna

"Cook's Achilles shimmers between poetry and prose, myth and memory, an age-old story and a startlingly modern imagination. It is uncanny in the best sense of the word."—Emily Barton, author of The Testament of Yves Gundron

"With this brilliantly conceived retelling of the plight of one of Homer's heroes, British writer Cook demonstrates the same skill that has made her poetry and examinations of Renaissance literature so wonderfully memorable. Cleaving closely to the Odyssey but embellishing her tale with sharply imagined creative flourishes, Cook navigates the rise and fall of the powerful Greek warrior Achilles, tragic hero of the Trojan war. Voluptuously chronicling the warrior's youth . . . and Achilles' own demise—is the work's central theme, but Cook also brilliantly narrates a series of passionate encounters, describing, for example, the exquisitely athletic fusion of King Peleus and Achilles' sea-nymph mother, Thetis. Cook's text is more lush prose poem than traditional narrative, its concentrated, intense verbiage exhibiting agony and beauty simultaneously. The heady brew is made even richer by Cook's brave incorporation of an episode from the life of John Keates in the surprising final chapter, which suggests a curious affinity between the prophetic writer and the slain hero. At 128 pages, Cook's tale is tightly woven, and this brevity makes for an extreme reading experience. The genre of retellings of classical epics will surely be reinvigorated by this slim, exceptional interpretation of the heroic fable of Achilles."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Inspired . . . Cook points up the primal quality of Achilles' story, so that we see its tragedy . . . as utterly universal."—Booklist (starred review)

"Masterful . . . A short, intense account of a short, intense life, closer to being a poem than a novel: if not verse, then at least prose with blood pressure."—London Review of Books

"A piece of writing that somehow belongs both to the ancient world and to ours. By pure force of feeling and imagination, and without any overt modernization, it transforms this ancient story into something that goes straight to the heart of our current questions."—Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman

"[A] remarkable little book . . . It is slender yet epic in its scope. Its roots are well-known, but its branches are new. I have never read anything like it."—Kate Kellaway, The Observer

"Extraordinary, and extraordinarily successful . . . What the late Angela Carter did for the folk-tale and fairy-story, Cook is here doing for the classical epic . . . It is beautiful, passionate."—Sara Maitland, The Spectator

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Elizabeth Cook

Elizabeth Cook has published short fiction and poetry, as well as scholarly works on Renaissance literature. She has also written for television and the theater. She lives in London. Achilles is her first novel.