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Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Song of Achilles (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Madeline Miller

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1,5461404,750 (4.11)3 / 631
Title:Song of Achilles
Authors:Madeline Miller
Info:Bloomsbury UK (2012), Paperback, 368 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Historical Fiction, E-Book, Greece, Ancient History, Mythology, LGBT, 2012, War, Romance

Work details

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (2011)

  1. 90
    The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood (1morechapter)
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    The King Must Die by Mary Renault (wrmjr66)
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    The Mask of Apollo by Mary Renault (shaunie)
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    Ransom by David Malouf (jbvm)
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    The Iliad by Homer (alalba)
  6. 20
    Grendel by John Gardner (fugitive)
    fugitive: Another brilliantly retold classic by a modern author.
  7. 10
    An Arrow's Flight: A Novel by Mark Merlis (marq)
    marq: Mark Merlis also takes up the story of Pyrrhus (or Neoptolemus), Achilles’ son with Deidamia when he was in disguise as a woman on Scyros. A very different kind of novel, steampunk, wild anachronism, graphically homoerotic, brilliant.
  8. 00
    The Love Artist by Jane Alison (jbvm)
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    Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (TomWaitsTables)
    TomWaitsTables: Because Song of Achilles is Homer's Illiad as a Twilight novel. Sorry.

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Showing 1-5 of 137 (next | show all)
Mary Renault set the rules for Ancient Greek historical fiction, and at least in the first part of this novel, Miller is a dutiful pupil, writing essentially the Achilles-and-Patroclus novel that Renault might have written fifty years ago. Take the lesser-known half of the couple as narrator, spend plenty of time on childhood and adolescence, take them up the mountain to study with Chiron, etc.

But then it gets trickier. For one thing, it isn't straightforward to do the Iliad without gods and goddesses sticking their fingers in the pie: the proper Renault way would be to have the mortals believe in them without actually bringing them into the story, but since the interventions here have to be rather concrete, that gets difficult. Miller doesn't bother to find non-supernatural explanations: she brings in Thetis as a major character, and a couple of other divinities make cameo appearances, but the bulk of the Olympian argy-bargy is offstage.

Then you have the problem of Ancient Greek sexuality. Do you follow (as Renault did) the convenient, but possibly not very accurate, mid-20th century convention that the Greeks were thoroughly enlightened chaps who didn't worry very much about who chose to go to bed with whom? Do you try to make up something more historically accurate but less plausible? Or do you do as Miller does and turn the characters into 1980s middle-class Americans? Thetis is the archetypal matriarch concerned that her son will blow his chance of getting the Republican nomination and she will be drummed out of the D.A.R. if it comes out that he has a boyfriend; Briseis is that equally familiar figure, the Ivy League graduate who's fed up with the men she dates and falls in love with her gay best friend. I'm not sure that Miller picked the best approach there...

The biggest problem of all, and probably the real reason why Renault never tackled this story, is that the principal narrative hinge is the death of the person you pretty much have to pick as narrator. So you're faced with either having someone else continue the story or letting Patroclus do it posthumously, both of which seem rather clumsy solutions. I don't think Miller handles this key aspect particularly well, either. The word that comes to mind (Greek is useful for some things, anyway) is bathos. ( )
  thorold | Jul 12, 2015 |
An utterly mesmerizing tale. Of course, this isn't solely a love story but Miller's beautifully woven words very much enriched the chemistry between Achilles and Patroclus - so much so that I was completely enraptured by the story all the way though. I highly recommend this to everyone who has a liking for greek mythology mixed with romance! ( )
  novewong | Jul 8, 2015 |
This fictionalised version of the lives of the Greek hero Achilles and his sworn companion Patroclus won the Orange Prize in 2012. The first third or so deals with the boyhood relationship of Achilles and Patroclus, and was a little slow, though well written. As one would expect, it is when the Trojan war breaks out that the action hots up, and the familiar and not so familiar events take place (though the most famous wooden horse in history is barely mentioned in passing). Achilles and Agamemnon between them do more damage to their own cause than to Troy most of the time through their arrogance, and Achilles's son Neoptolemus is particularly unpleasant. A good read. ( )
  john257hopper | Jun 6, 2015 |
I would like to say in all seriousness: This is now my favourite book.

I've been trying to figure out what to say in this review for a few days now, and I just can't? This book destroyed me.

This book was meant for me.

I remember the first time I ever saw this book was in an airport. It can't have been very long after it was published because this was only about 3-4 years ago, and I was on my way to visit my Father in the UK. I hadn't even read the blurb, but I had decided I wanted this book. I knew I was going to love it. I wanted to buy it! But, as my Mother pointed out, I already had enough books to read whilst I was away - I could get the book when we got back.

I didn't get the book when I got back. I ended up getting it on Kindle years later, and then put off reading it for months.

Why? I don't know. I love all things Ancient History - more than anything, the Ancient Greeks. This is exactly my kind of thing. I remember having this same love affair with Mary Renault's The Alexander Trilogy. So I honestly don't know why I waited until now to read this book.

Do I regret that I waited this long? Absolutely not. It might only be a matter of 3-4 years, but I would never have appreciated this book then, the way I do now.

The Song of Achilles is the story of the illustrious Achilles Peleides, Aristos Achaion. More than that, it's the story of what made him human in spite of being half-god. The book is told from the narrative of Patroclus Menotiades, an exiled prince, who comes to the court of King Peleus, and there meets the second half of his soul.

Miller has obviously followed Plato's interpretation of their relationship here. Contrary to major movies starring Brad Pitt, Achilles and Patroclus were not cousins. They were not remotely related. There is no definitive answer to the question of 'were they lovers?' but I like to think they were. There's enough evidence out there for me, and certainly Homer doesn't make it explicit, but you cannot deny the way, aside from it's depth, the way in which Achilles grieves - refusing to burn Patroclus' body, keeping it in his tent and weeping over it - provides pretty compelling evidence.

Anyway ...

What I really love about this book? The fact that it's told from Patroclus' narrative. This was a genius stroke by Miller. It certainly wouldn't have been anywhere near as good if it had been told from an impersonal third person, or even from Achilles point of view. How could you possibly relate to someone who was half-god? But to the poor mortal who loved him? That you can relate to. Almost everyone will have had that experience of thinking someone divine through the force of your feelings for them. The only difference here, is Achilles really is of the divine.

Patroclus is the relateable outcast. He's not a loser by any means, but he's just not a warrior in a culture where the true measure of a man is in his ability to be one, surrounded as they are by stories of heroes and gods. So far in that the divinities are real characters in this book: Thetis, Achilles' mother; Chiron, Centaur and teacher; and cameos by Apollo and minor Gods. The addition of these characters adds a sense of magic, whilst maintaining a sense of realism. You feel that it is quite feasible that they existed once, and that they did play a part in this story.

The Story of Achilles is one that is recognised the world over, and the name of Achilles is synonymous with the name Troy. But that's not what this book is about. This book is a love story. It's the story of two best friends growing up, learning to love each other, discovering their world together and their willingness to sacrifice for the sake of their love.The depth of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is what really sets this book apart from all the other re-tellings of the Illiad.

If you only read one book this year, make it this one. ( )
1 vote LydiaLeigh257 | Apr 29, 2015 |
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
One of the greatest love stories never told…until Miller chose to work with this ancient story.
This is the love song of Patroclus for Achilles, a demi-god who befriends him while they are both young. Their friendship grows into something more, a powerful expression of the heart. But when the winds of war blow over them both, they must bow to Achilles’ fate and join forces fighting Troy to recapture Helen of Sparta.
Told in prose that is spare yet masterful, The Song of Achilles reveals the deeper movements that drive both Patroclus and Achilles forward to their deaths. Told with warmth that lacks any overblown sentimentality, this story is moving and emotionally fulfilling. A must-read for fans of mythology and those who enjoy walking side-by-side with lovers who face destiny with courage.
( )
1 vote Laine-Cunningham | Feb 22, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 137 (next | show all)
That The Song of Achilles offers a different take on the epic story of Achilles and the Trojan War is not, in itself, anything particularly out of the ordinary. People have been putting their own spins on The Iliad from the instant Homer finished reciting it. What's startling about this sharply written, cleverly re-imagined, enormously promising debut novel from Madeline Miller is how fresh and moving her take on the tale is — how she has managed to bring Achilles and his companion Patroclus to life in our time without removing them from their own.
added by Shortride | editUSA Today, Robert Bianco (Mar 12, 2012)
But in the case of Miller, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in classics at Brown, the epic reach exceeds her technical grasp. The result is a book that has the head of a young adult novel, the body of the “Iliad” and the hindquarters of Barbara Cartland.

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Madeline Millerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Douglas, FrazerNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saltzman, AllisonCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thorpe, DavidReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Windgassen, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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To my mother Madeline, and Nathaniel
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My father was a king and the son of kings.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Short introduction

To the classic Iliad

With misplaced passion.


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Patroclus, an awkward young prince, follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate. Set during the Trojan War.… (more)

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