The Song of Achilles is one of the most amazing books I have ever read. I cannot fault it. The story was beautiful and tragic and the authors writing style allowed for the happiness and grief in the book to be felt in all its abundance.
This book was released on 20th September 2011.
This review may contain mild spoilers for this book (What I consider spoilers might not be what you consider spoilers but I thought that I’d put it out there just in case). READERS YE BE WARNED!
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 – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess.
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.
Honestly, it’s really difficult to read a book when you already know the ending. It’s like staring at an oncoming train, try as you might you can’t stop the impact. That was this book for anyone who is familiar with the Iliad and Achilles and Patroclus’ story (Which I mostly am BTW, so… be warned, the history nerd in me may be present for some of this review).
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is a beautifully written retelling of one of the most famous stories in classical literature. While much of the main narrative does stay true to the original text, Madeline has also built complex and fleshed out backstories for both of the main characters and expanded on their love for one another as it grew from a childhood friendship into a sweet and beautiful romance. There are people out there that would disagree with Madeline Miller’s interpretation of Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship as a homosexual romantic one but considering the violent display of grief by Achilles after the “Hector Incident” is not only in The Song of Achilles but also prominently shown in the Iliad, I would say she’s probably right on the money (That and Plato wrote about it in his Symposium and described their love as divinely approved. He also suggested that Achilles was the bottom in the relationship so…).
I simply adored both Patroclus and Achilles right from the beginning. Patroclus in particular had a significant amount of character development especially concerning his transformation from a shy-ish, occasionally self-deprecating youngster into a more confident and capable man. He is portrayed as kindhearted and just generally an all around awesome person which, in my opinion, helped make Achilles a lot more likeable. By that I mean that throughout the novel Achilles is shown as an extremely self-confident person who occasionally does not think about the implications his actions may have on others which means he can come across as a bit of a dick at times. Achilles and Patroclus kind of remind me of Sherlock and Watson from BBC’s Sherlock and how while Sherlock does all this amazing stuff, Watson is there helping him along and making him seem a little bit more human and approachable.
The writing in The Song of Achilles is both simple and completely gorgeous at the same time. There are no super flowery descriptions or analogies used to express the characters or the mood or the settings in the book but Madeline Miller then goes and writes stuff like the quote below which I definitely prefer instead.
“I could recognize 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.”
As far as the world building goes, it is pretty standard Ancient Greek type stuff. Gods, and half-gods, and mortals, and war. It’s all there in all its awesome, historically accurate-ish beauty.
The Song of Achilles is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read in my entire life. It’s one of those books that I took forever to get to and then kicked myself for taking so long to read it. I am going to recommend that everyone and anyone read this book at least once. Even if you don’t really care about Ancient Greece or finding a more modern take on Homer’s iconic work, GO AND READ THIS RIGHT NOW! You will most probably not regret it.