The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
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Here's my review:
Madeline Miller grew up in Philadelphia, received her bachelor's and master's degrees in Classics from Brown, and spent the past 10 years, using her knowledge and love of The Iliad and the Trojan War, in writing this captivating novel, as narrated by Achilles' best friend and closest confidant Patroclus.
As the story opens, Patroclus, the son of Menoitius, King of Opus, describes his early years in his father's kingdom. He is an embarrassment to his father, as he is simple minded and slow of foot, particularly in comparison to the fleet-footed Achilles, son of Peleus, King of the Myrmidons, and Thetis, a lesser but still powerful sea-goddess. Patroclus admires and is attracted to this impossibly handsome and gifted young man after he wins a race in his father's kingdom.
Patroclus is banished from Opus after an unfortunate accident, and is sent to continue his education and training with Peleus. Patroclus and Achilles are soon attracted to each other, and become inseparable friends and cautious lovers, to the disapproval and dismay of Thetis, who views Patroclus as unsuitable and unworthy of her son. Achilles is prophesied to be the greatest warrior who ever lived, mainly due to his exemplary lineage, and is beloved within and outside of his father's kingdom.
The two young men further their education in life under the tutelage of the centaur Chiron, as they grow to love and respect each other and their inimitable teacher. After several years of training, Achilles is urgently summoned home, to lead the Myrmidons in battle against the Trojans, as Paris, son of the King of Troy, has kidnapped Helen, the Queen of Sparta and the most beautiful woman in the world. Her husband Menelaus and his greedy and power hungry brother, Agamemnon, call on the surrounding kingdoms to honor the oath from Odysseus at the time of her marriage, which compels them to aid him in reclaiming Helen from the Trojans.
Miller skillfully portrays the build up to and the major events in the Trojan War, including the drudgery of warfare and the squabbles between Achilles and Agamemnon and its tragic consequences, ending with the ultimate fates of Patroclus and Achilles.
The Song of Achilles is a remarkable achievement, one which is worthy of this year's Orange Prize, as its author has created a novel that is a beautiful love story and a page turning tale of war, jealousy and friendship. I would imagine that one of Miller's goals in writing this book is to introduce readers like myself who are naïve to The Iliad to the beauty and timelessness of this story, and she has succeeded in doing so. I will read Homer's classic works in the near future, and I'll eagerly return to The Song of Achilles for a pleasure filled re-read soon afterward.
Here's my review of The Song of Achilles. I wish I was as enamored as my friends, but still a solid read!
Good news! You don't have to be an Ancient Greek expert to read The Song of Achilles! For those of you who wondered, rest assured: Madeline Miller maneuvers her readers through Ancient Greek lore like a skilled driver. Having advanced degrees in the Classics certainly does help, but her writing style is easy and digestible. I could even keep track of the names (a small miracle for me).
Now for the "meh" news: I wasn't enamored with The Song of Achilles like I thought I would be. I was hoping for a five-star, knock-my-socks off read. (Note to self: Stop reading so many reviews before selecting a book). Why? Because many book-loving friends raved about The Song of Achilles. As a result, I set my expectations too high.
The Song of Achilles focuses on the relationship between Achilles and his lover/soul mate/best friend, Patroclus. Patroclus was exiled from his kingdom as a young boy and sent to live with King Peleus, who was Achilles' father. Eventually, Achilles and Patroclus struck up a friendship, which, over time, turned into a deep romance. The entire story is told through Patroclus' eyes, and through his perspective, we learn about Achilles the boy, the soldier and the man.
I applaud Miller for this ambitious endeavor: to tell the story of Achilles and the Trojan War through a fresh perspective. In my opinion, she accomplished it very well, especially for being a young writer. She made each character come alive - to the point where you love or hate them.
Where I think The Song of Achilles lacked for me was the pace. It dragged in parts. A lot of pages were spent on Achilles growing up, and some of it wasn't that interesting. When we finally arrived at the Trojan War, I just wanted to press the fast-forward button. I realize Miller needed to build up some tension, but I think she lost me along the way. When the prophecy was fulfilled and the inevitable fates occurred, the story still continued! Stick a fork in me: I was done.
In the end, The Song of Achilles was a good book. I would recommend it to readers who love historical fiction, especially ancient history. If you're against same-sex relationships, this is definitely a book to skip. Madeline Miller is a young writing talent, and I hope she continues to hone her craft. I expect we'll see even more brilliant stories coming from this gifted writer. ( )
Miller’s book has been getting a lot of nice reviews from many media outlets and blogging companions. I’m not as enthusiastic as most.
The book is basically a retelling of The Iliad. Admittedly, I’ve never read the full version of the tale, but I have read several other retellings as my kids were nuts about mythology when they were growing up and we would read or listen to them together. If you’re familiar with the story, there isn’t much new here except for one thing, and that is the homosexual relationship between Patroclus and Achilles. The whole tale is told from that angle. Whereas The Iliad never expressly states this nature about their relationship, some scholars have inferred from their reading of it that this was so. However, others aren’t convinced; it is debated among scholarly circles today whether this was the case or they were just ‘bosom buddies.’ In addition, in The Iliad, Patroclus is clearly older than Achilles and not the same age, so there were some liberties taken there as well. Also, I didn’t find the writing to be that stellar.
If this book hadn’t been shortlisted for the Orange Prize, I probably wouldn’t have read it. And the reason is that I’ve read so many retellings in the past it is high time I read the real thing. I’ve been going over different translations and I think I’m going to go with the Alexander Pope version. While not as literal as some of the more modern translations, it looks to be more in the spirit of Homer’s original because it rhymes. The Iliad and The Odyssey were orally passed down, and looking at Pope’s translation, it would seem the easiest one to memorize if one had to.
I do thank Madeline Miller for giving me the jump start to actually want to read the real tales themselves. For that I’m grateful.
2012, 369 pp.
I'm about 2/3 through and, like Jill, I was hoping for five fat, juicy stars and am getting more like four. I don't mind the pace, but I would like more depth somehow. It's been a long time since I read The Iliad, but this book somehow sacrifices the sweep and universality (maybe?) of the original for her individual focus. So far Patroclus and Achilles are just not that interesting as individuals. Maybe I'll change my mind. Otherwise, it is a thumping good read, and I may yet change my mind.
Here's my review of The Song of Achilles. I'm more with kidzdoc on this one!!
I chose to read The Song of Achilles over of mountains (and I mean literally mountains) of books in my TBR stack because:
1). It was recently nomination to the Orange Prize short list
2). It has been getting rave reviews from my fellow LT'ers
Since I went out and bought the book -- did I mention the incredible reviews :) -- I started seeing some reviewers with less than stellar opinions on Miller's retelling of the Iliad. I will go ahead and say that I am solidly in the "this is brilliant" camp!
I appreciate others' comments about pacing and such, but I was so thoroughly engrossed with Achilles and Patroclus that I didn't want their early years to end. When the book inevitably ended, I wanted so much more. I really hope it doesn't take Miller another 10 years to craft another gem of a novel based on the classics!
I'm not a total idiot about mythology but my knowledge is limited.... I love recent retellings (Percy Jackson among them), but my exposure to actual classics is almost non-existent (Christian schooling shuns mythology mostly). My lack of classical upbringing did not affect my love of this novel in the least. I found Miller's take on the Iliad to be understandable and even angst producing. **I knew before reading the ending was not going to be a happy one, but I was still cheering for Achilles and Patroclus anyway.**
I followed along with the gods and goddesses and was able to keep track of almost everyone -- I wish I had found the cheat sheet on gods, godesses and heroes in the front of the novel instead of at the end -- that's my one and only criticism!
In short, I found "The Song of Achilles" to be a beautiful re-invention of a tale I honestly didn't think I ever cared to know more about. I will now be considering trying my hand at reading the classics.
Five well-earned stars from this impressed reader!
LOL, I found that glossary of gods and goddesses after I finished reading. I wish it was in the front too! Great review! I am glad you liked it.
One good thing about reading all these reviews before reading the book: I know where the glossary is should I need it!
I'll third that wish for the who's who. I was reading on Kindle, so I hadn't a hope. I see it now in the table of contents, but I had no reason to check that when I started. I will from now on!
Here are my few reactions....... I come down on the "not quite brilliant" end of the spectrum, and I'm sorry.
I really enjoyed Miller's reframing of The Iliad. From an epic she crafts a love story between two young men who work out their destinies when honor confronts love. She writes really well and her imagination is both inevitable and logical, but somehow I never caught fire with this one as others have done. I liked it; don't mistake me. I think that it deserves its place on the Orange short list. I will be surprised if it wins although I've read only one other shortlisted work at this point. If only *Achilles* and Foreign Bodies were competing, I'd give the prize to *Achilles* without question.
So I feel a bit odd woman out. I am ready for something that is not derived from another, greater work.
I actually found the glossary early on and was quite thrilled because usually I only find those things when I've finished the book, but I was quickly UNthrilled because, if you don't already know the whole story, there are sp-sp-sp-spoilers in that there glossary. Gah.
So now I understand why it's at the back. For readers like me, who didn't know what was going to happen. My thoughts on the book are here.
Just bumping this thread up because I loved, loved, loved this book. One of my top reads of the year, for sure.
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