◐ Book Name: The Song of Achilles
◐ Author: Madeline Miller
◐ Genre: Fantasy, Romance
◐ Pages: 378
Told from the perspective of Patroclus, The Song of Achilles retells the story of the Iliad, focusing on the love between Patroclus and Achilles. These two opposite people in demeanour and personalities, find a romance in one another–one that shapes the events of the fall of Troy.
Recommended for people who are interested in Greek mythology, particularly the events told in Iliad, and for those who enjoy lyrical writing, and a story that breaks your heart
death, violence, blood, gore, sex
◐ Review 3/5 ⭐
There are certain books that, even if one doesn’t quite like them, they also can’t deny that they make them feel something.
The Song of Achilles is one of those for me. I was again torn by the rating, as I could not decide between giving it three stars or four. This was the second time I have read it, so it definitely has some value. It still imparted shafts of emotion to me (some lines are undeniably beautiful), so clearly it is also not mediocre.
I enjoyed the writing. Madeline Miller’s style is lyrical and lovely. Her use of language is so poetic at times. It flowed smoothly, like a gentle river over rock beds, as sunlight sparkles for moments upon the water. That is the imagery my head painted as I read her writing.
She tells the story chronologically, beginning with Patroclus’ birth. She lays out the progressive events for the reader, and yet the book hardly ever loses its momentum. Many books written in our modern day rely on other devices, in order to keep our ever-dwindling attention. This one incorporates none of that.
Patroclus holds the book together as the only character that felt almost-real. He is well aware of his shortcomings. Most of this book’s better-known and wistful lines come from his love and grief. At the end of the book, my heart ached for him.
I believe most people know the basic story of The Iliad–if not from the actual book, then from the 2004 film Troy. Most people know that Patroclus’ death precedes Achilles’, and that it is because of Achilles’ grief for Patroclus that drives him to his own death.
Dramatic irony is such an underused tool in fiction nowadays, that this method of chronological storytelling, all while knowing how the story will end, made it all the more poignant and tragic. It filled me with dread even as I delved deeper into the book, despite knowing the conclusion.
Patroclus believes Achilles will die before him. The fear of this loss haunts him from the beginning of their love affair to the end. And we, as the reader, feel wistfully sad for him because we know that’s not the case.
Other than Patroclus, no other characters made much of an indent in my mind, as they tended to blend together. Achilles is not very likable, but I’m not sure he’s meant to be. He’s arrogant and prideful. He’s overly trusting and matter-of-fact about his destiny. His pride and anger cause devastating consequences to his fellow Greeks, yet he refuses to yield. All that can be said of him is that he looks great when he’s fighting and he has beautiful golden hair. He’s made redeemable because Patroclus loves him, but why Patroclus loves him so much isn’t entirely clear to me either. Then again, I suppose such feelings never come with much rhyme or reason.
I wasn’t terribly fond of the pacing. The book dragged at times; it took about half the book to even get to the Trojan War, then fast-forwarded several years to the tragic climax. It was a bit disjointed.
For those looking for a book that boasts more battle scenes, and more details of the battle of Troy, I suggest you look elsewhere. This is ultimately a love story, and the events that surround it are merely convenient for the telling of love and grief. The Song of Achilles does not describe the battles or much of anything beyond the bare bones of The Iliad’s events. But perhaps if that’s what you wanted, you would have read The Iliad instead of this.
This book, instead, should be picked up for its beautiful writing, and a story about two boys who get caught in a war caused by other men’s foolishness and pride. It is about how their love remains strong even after character failings, even after death.
My narrow world narrowed further: to the cracks in the floor, the carved whorls in the stone walls. They rasped softly as I traced them with my fingertip.
He said what he meant; he was puzzled if you did not. Some people might have mistaken this for simplicity. But is it not a sort of genius to cut always to the heart?
We were like gods, at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.
“Name one hero who was happy. …You can’t. … They never let you be famous and happy. … I’ll tell you a secret. … I’m going to be the first.” He took my palm and held it to his. “Swear it.”
“Because you’re the reason.”
When he died, all things swift and beautiful and bright would be buried with him.
He is half of my soul, as the poets say.
There are no bargains between lions and men. I will kill you and eat you raw.
It is right to seek peace for the dead. You and I both know there is no peace for those who live after.
I am made of memories.
In the darkness, two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dusk. Their hands meet, and light spills in a flood, like a hundred golden urns pouring out the sun.