The Iliad, which is the source material for this text, starts in medias res, or in the middle of things, as does Ransom. How does starting in the middle of the story influence how the story is told?
First of all, mimicking The Iliad is significant in and of itself: it reminds the reader of the origin of this story. By starting in the middle of things, Malouf gives the sense that this is only a small part of a much larger narrative. It also means that, despite the presence of a traditional novelistic structure, with exposition, rising action, etc., the reader is still disoriented when they start the book, almost as if they started reading the last chapters of a novel.
Why it is important for Priam to come to Achilles as a father and not as a king?
Priam's humility and ability to clasp Achilles around the knees is a large part of what moves Achilles to surrender Hector's body. As a king, Priam is the enemy, but as a father, Priam can speak to Achilles' own personal experience and personal pain that comes from knowing he might never see his son again. It speaks to the strength of Priam's character that he can appeal to Achilles without the power of a crown, and suggests that the request isn't political, but instead deeply personal and human.
How is family important to this novel?
All of the characters are motivated by people they consider family. Achilles' anger is fueled by the death of someone he describes as closer than a brother, and Priam is heartbroken by the death and mistreatment of his son. Fathers and sons, specifically, are important to this book. Fathers are shown to be the people that define their sons: Achilles' father's mortality and kingship make Achilles a mortal prince, Priam's love for Hector drives him to humble himself and ask Achilles for Hector's body back. Even Somax, the carter, has a deep relationship with his sons.
How does death haunt Achilles and Priam, respectively?
Death has haunted them both since they were children. Achilles is given up at a young age by his mother because he is going to die, and Priam narrowly escapes death when his parents are killed in war. During the time frame of the book, Achilles is a soldier who is always aware of how close he is to death, while Priam's closeness with death is a function of his age. In addition, both of their deaths are foretold over the course of the book: Achilles both promises to join Patroclus soon in death and learns of his death through Hector, and Priam's death is seen by Achilles towards the end of the book.
What can the ending of the book tell us about storytelling?
Even though the actions in the book are important and urgent for the characters themselves, over time, all stories change. For Somax, the passage of time means that the people involved in his stories become less and less believable: it is a natural process for what was history for one generation to fade into legend for the next generation. All stories age and fade in their own ways, and sometimes—as is the case with Beauty, the mule— the most mundane parts of the story are the parts that stick around.