Achilles the Changeling

Written by Judith Foster
Review by Ben Bergonzi

The Achilles of conventional mythology is an expert fighter, a man of strong affections, but vengeful when crossed. We recall his role in the siege of Troy and his vindictive treatment of Hector’s dead body to avenge the death of his favourite, Patroclus. In this novella, Judith Foster cleverly upends that myth. Instead of providing battle scenes, she brings us into Achilles’ mind, focusing on his relationships with those around him, as he walks the earth as a half-God, half man. There are his parents – his mother, the Goddess Thetis, and his mortal father Peleus, the God Apollo, and the poet Apomeros.

This is very far from being solely another modern reappraisal of an oft-told tale because Foster has chosen to reflect the work of Homer himself by writing her story in verse. A gifted poet, she cleverly employs different styles of verse, sometimes formal and declaratory, sometimes more intimate, but always beautiful in their descriptions of weather, nature, horses; and psychologically convincing, occasionally comic, in the windows offered into the characters’ minds. Foster’s Achilles is a peaceable fellow, considerate enough of his mother’s hopes for him to instruct Apomeros to construct the myth of his life that we all know today. As he says, although ‘I returned war-shy To Aegina, had ceased to fight at Troy She needs the myth that glory will deploy.’

Although a short book, this is very memorable and rewarding – always approachable and clear, amusing and well-observed; it brings the past to life as successfully as the very best of historical fiction.