Title: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
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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. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend. 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 then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.
(Taken from Goodreads)
#LGBTQMonth Readathon Bingo
The Book Review
The Song of Achilles is pretty much what I think would have happened if the Muses had been left to personally write the Iliad instead of leaving it to the poets.
This book was enthralling. The language was poetic and musical without taking a turn towards the monotonous or the boring. The shift from boyhood to adulthood is portrayed seamlessly through tone and introspection, while a good dose of humour ensures some lightheartedness among what have been otherwise dire circumstances. Each character possesses a different voice, different speech and different mannerisms, ensuring their uniqueness as well as a good amount of variety.
Most importantly, it oozes with The Most Authentic Queer Sentiment: yearning. Patroclus yearns for many things: first for fatherly affection, then for Achilles, and finally for peace. While the story ultimately is about war and death, Patroclus’ narrative manages to weave a complex tapestry in which love, hope and family take the real centre stage.
I was a little sceptical about re-witnessing the Iliad from Patroclus’ perspective, but having read the book now, I believe a better point of view couldn’t have been chosen. Despite being told through his eyes, he rarely brings attention to himself (which is in itself a remarkable element of characterisation), allowing for every single character to come alive on the page. Vices and virtues take human form and unapologetically so, however ugly some of them may be. In the narrator’s own words, he seeks to remember the man behind the myth of Aristos Achaion. And this book does just that, for each and every one of its characters.
Another thing I appreciated is how the author did not forget about the women in a male-centric epic. Thetis and Briseis are the most influential ones, but even characters like Deidameia and Iphigenia, who are seen only for a few moments, come alive with masterful narrative brushstrokes. Despite recounting the events of boys trained to be soldiers in a war fought by men between men, the women in the book shine like gems, casting their light powerfully over everyone else.
If I have to nitpick — I found a typo towards the end and the book did suffer from some repetition. I do feel, for instance, that Thetis grey dress is brought up every single time she appears when I would have preferred to see something else of her. However, I found I didn’t mind repetition as much as I usually would: Classical literature is known for its formulaic expressions and recurring lines (they came in handy for rhyme and rhythm), so it was a really pleasant, subtle nod towards that.
I thoroughly loved every second of this book. It has action, danger, tension, love, yearning — you name it, it has it.
And yes, I cried at the end. Dammit.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely.
Other books like this: I would recommend The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (mind the trigger warnings) for Briseis’ story, or A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes for an all-female perspective of the outcome of the Trojan War.
(Links redirect to Goodreads)
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