THE SONG OF ACHILLES – MADELINE MILLER
352 pages – September 2011
Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their difference, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper.
But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
“Name one hero who was happy.”
For my first reread of the year, let me scream about how much I love this book.
First off, I am a giant nerd for Greek mythology. Most mythology, really, but my heart lies with the Greek myths, and never have I seen a retelling as good as Madeline Miller’s.
The Song of Achilles is, obviously, the story of Achilles. It’s a retelling of The Iliad, told from the point of view of Patroclus, Achilles’s closest friend, and in this version, his lover.
“I would recognise him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”
If you know anything about Greek myths, you may know how this book ends before you even start it. I certainly did. That doesn’t mean I don’t spend every page captivated by the story. Miller’s writing is phenomenal. It’s beautiful, it’s lyrical, it’s descriptive, and it conveys every bit of the obvious love between Achilles and Patroclus, all the way to the bitter end.
Despite that, she doesn’t shy away from the brutal reality of the Trojan War, and this is a war story. It’s bloody and violent, and a vast majority of the characters we see are morally grey at best and outright unlikeable at worst. Achilles, the ‘hero’ of the book, becomes harder to like as the story goes on, and even Patroclus has his flaws. This also isn’t a story that’s kind to women, because unsurprisingly, most of Greek mythology is not. There’s murder and sexual assault, though none of it is graphic. Overall, The Song of Achilles is not a happy story, but then, it was never going to be.
No review will ever fully express my love for this book. The Song of Achilles is incredibly written, and Gods and myths and heroes come alive in its pages. The characters, likeable and otherwise, stick with you. And even though I know exactly how it’ll end, I still cry when it does.
On a side note, if you’re interested in learning more about Greek mythology, I highly recommend the podcast Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby! If you’re interested in a book about the Trojan War, but from the perspective of Briseis and the women, try The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker.
You can also find this review on Goodreads.