The final Orange Prize for Fiction to be contested before the mobile phone company directs its largesse elsewhere was awarded last night to the American writer Madeline Miller, for her debut novel The Song of Achilles. The book reanimates in novel form Homer's Iliad (Miller read classics at university in the US and has taught Latin and Greek in high school), focusing on the relationship between the titular warrior and the young prince Patroclus. Tom Holland, reviewing The Song of Achilles for the New Statesman in October 2011, praised the tact and flair with which Miller reworked Homer's epic:
Inevitably there are gaps in Homer's story that Miller is obliged to fill with elaborations of her own; she shows Achilles and Patroclus first bonding over a music lesson, and describes the fate of the two warriors' spirits after death. Yet none of these episodes seems forced ... The magic of the Iliad, and the measure of its author's seemingly limitless resources of creativity, is the way in which it hints at a universe immeasurably vaster even than the one contained within its verses. Miller fills the empty spaces in Homer's narrative with the doings of heroes and gods ...
The chair of judges, Joanna Trollope, echoed these sentiments last night: "This is a more than worthy winner - original, passionate, inventive and uplifting. Homer would be proud of her."
Once the excitement at Miller's victory subsided, the conversation at the ceremony turned to the identity of the next sponsor of the women's fiction prize. Co-founder Kate Mosse remains bullish about the future, but an announcement about funding doesn't appear to be imminent.