Book Review: The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I have a reasonable amount of knowledge of Greek Mythology from watching my copy of Disney’s ‘Hercules’ on VHS, to a fleeting ‘Percy Jackson’ phase, to attending university, where we dedicated several weeks to studying myths like Eros and Psyche, Apollo and Daphne, Oedipus Wrecked, and other tales from the Iliad. I even played ‘Hades’, which was how I knew vaguely of the characters in The Song of Achilles.

Despite knowing of Achilles and Patroclus through playing Hades, it still took me far too long to finally read ‘The Song of Achilles’.

‘The Song of Achilles’, was first published in 2011, and was the debut novel of Madeline Miller, however, it would grow in acclaim during the boom of BookTok, an area of TikTok dedicated to literature, where users shared recommendations. The tag “#TheSongOfAchilles” has at least 241.5 million views attributed to it, which was how it found itself in my TBR pile.

Miller utilised common knowledge, such as the Trojan War, immediately remembered as where the story of the Trojan Horse, a gift for Troy, of a hollowed-out wooden horse, filled of Greek soldiers. However, it is set before the idea of this strategy is proposed. Instead, the story follows Achilles, born of King Peleus and the water nymph, Thetis. The story is told from the perspective of Achilles’ best friend and lover, Patroclus, who was an exiled Prince of Menoitiades, and explored their relationship from childhood, into adolescence, and then onto the war.

She also takes advantage of a number of references, allowing the predetermined ideas of who these characters and figures from Greek mythology were, to be sparing of descriptions of some figures, such as Philocretes, who was depicted as a grumpy, squat, satyr, and voiced by Danny DeVito in the 1997 film, ‘Hercules’. She also introduced the character of Chiron, a centaur, who was depicted in Rick Riordan’s ‘Percy Jackson’ series, as a patient and capable mentor.

I absolutely adored Miller’s careful additions and nods to other classic myths, which had happened before Achilles, or were underway during his time in Troy. For example, Odysseus, who was the Prince of Ithaca, and a figurehead in the Trojan War, was about to embark on a journey that would be explored in Homer’s ‘Odyssey’. Odysseus was married to Penelope, the cousin of Helen, and was a character I instantly remembered from my studies as having spent ten years struggling to get home to his loving wife. Miller also made references to stories in passing, such as the tale of Jason and the Golden Fleece, and apt imagery referring to other stories such as the myth of Daphne, who was turned into a laurel to deflect the advances of Apollo.

Another element of this novel that I adored was the pacing. I demolished the book in less than twenty-four hours after a several-month-long reading slump. It was immersive and captivating, thrusting the reader into Patroclus’ shoes, and into his mind. You learn early in the book of the prophecy that Achilles is doomed to die young, but, as a hero. And yet, despite this ill-fated relationship, Achilles and Patroclus managed to live defiantly.

I loved the personality, and the nature of Achilles’ blatant disregard to his mother’s wishes when it came to the lover he took. From their youth, Thetis was opposed to their relationship, and even sent Achilles away, and yet, despite her protests Achilles and Patroclus were adamant that they would stay together, even when men took wives and bore children.

The progression from childhood adoration and admiration, to adolescent yearning, to a mature, realised, sexual relationship and the way the actualisation of Achilles’ prophecy was gripping. I couldn’t put the book down from the moment the characters reached Troy. The last hundred pages or so flew by with a sense of urgency, a panic that was reticent of the blind rage, and Godly swiftness of Achilles himself. I was mesmerised by the immediacy of the situation as it unfolded at the book’s climax.  It was an amazing, captivating read that I couldn’t, and wouldn’t put down. I had to find out what happened to those poorly fated lovers.

The ending had me in tears. I wept over the final chapters, the aching of a lost, absent Patroclus, suffering in his futile feat of the preservation of Achilles’ heroic reputation. I ached as I tore through the final pages, willing for a resolution, that ended up being gut-wrenching.

Miller’s story was absolutely spell-binding. I greatly anticipate the next opportunity to read her novels. Her writing had me entranced and I have found myself, inadvertently joining the symphony of voices online, singing the praises of ‘The Song Of Achilles’.

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