What a book! I absolutely adored The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, a Troy re-telling novel by a young author who I just can’t help but admire. This was her FIRST novel! Miller spent ten years writing the book while she worked as a Latin and Greek teacher, which is pretty impressive. And it shows – the book was so well imagined and so well written.
I was very lucky to have found the book in my local city library and decided to read it before Circe, the new book by the same author, which I bought on my last visit to the world-famous Parisian bookshop Shakespeare&Company.
The Song of Achilles is a re-telling of Homer’s Troy, with an emphasis on Achilles, the greatest hero of Troy, and all that told from the point of view of Patroclus. Here’s the thing… In the original work by Homer, there is great emphasis on Patroclus and how much he means to the great hero Achilles. His death unleashes Achille’s wrath and leads to events that soon end the decade-long war at Troy’s gates. In the original piece by Homer the connection is clear, the devotion to Patroclus is clear, but we never really know WHY it is there. It has been assumed that, most likely, Patroclus was Achille’s lover. It’s a solid theory. And it’s a theory that fuels this book.
Basically, The Song of Achilles is a luscious love story, and it was one of the most emotional ones I have ever read.
Patroclus is an interesting narrator. It is easy to feel sorry for the young prince of one of the lower kingdoms of Old Greece. He is unloved by his father and mothered by a simpleton mom. An accident happens and Patroclus is exiled from his own court to the another kingdom’s court where a young and powerful prince resides – Achilles – son of a goddess and a pious human king. Already, the prophecies foretell Achilles is going to be the greatest warrior of his generation. It is a burden to carry, a theme common to Greek (and other) mythology, to know where your fate resides. Yet, Achilles would much rather play the lyre than yield a sword, he seems to have a very gentle and kind heart.
During this time he befriends Patroclus and makes Patroclus his companion, an honor not given to just anybody. Patroclus and Achilles are still young boys, but as they grow and as their bodies mature, the tension between slowly rises as well. With time, it escalates to love, beautiful and deep. Also, the tension between Greece kingdoms and troy also rises to a peek, after Paris – young prince of Troy – “kidnaps” Helen, the (most) beautiful woman in the world and a wife of one of the more important kings of Greece. War is inevitable, and everybody turns to Achilles for military leadership – he is the Great Warrior promised.
What I really enjoyed about this story is the absolute respect (and love) the author has for the original work of Homer and the Ancient Greek mythology. Throughout the book, gods play games with humans and prophecies work they way into the heart of both the mortal and immortal. In Greek stories, it is common you know the end before the story even begins, but what makes it unique is the heroes of these stories know their fates, as well. Achilles knows he will die as a young man in Troy if he decides to join the cause. He knows his death will follow the death of Hector, by his own hand. Yet, he still hopes his decisions can separate him from his fate. It’s a beautiful hope, even when we know it’s in vain.
And the love story between Achilles and Patroclus was told in a spectacular way. While it’s often, right until the last part of the book, not very clear what drawn Achilles to Patroclus, it is so beautifully clear what attracts Patroclus to Achilles. I loved seeing Achilles through Patroclus’s eyes. It was mesmerizing. Achilles was already such an admirable and legendary character, but now I can also see him through the eyes of his beloved – and that is amazing.
The finale of the book was thrilling. By that point, you could feel the rhythm of the war that seems to drag on forever. Almost ten years at Troy, without much luck getting through its gates. It took a toll on the army Achilles was leading.
Here’s the thing… the reason why this book was great – Miller re-told a story already told a thousand times, and we all know how it ends. There is not a story more predictable then Troy. Yet, she managed to tell it in a fresh and utterly captivating way. It was mesmerizing, and immersive, and emotional as hell. The end destroyed me. I was in tears and holding the book close to my heart. I want more books like this. And I can’t wait to read her new book – Circe, that came out in April.
Did you read The Song of Achilles? How did you like it?