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The Song of Achilles: A Novel by Madeline…

The Song of Achilles: A Novel (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Madeline Miller

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1,4771365,039 (4.11)3 / 616
I knew this book would become one of my favorites almost immediately. In just a few pages, I was completely immersed in the story, and found myself picking up the book anytime I had a minute to spare. And it's unusual for a book to bring real, honest-to-goodness tears to my eyes, but this one most certainly did.

The Song of Achilles provides back story to one aspect of the Trojan War: the relationship between Achilles and his close friend, Patroclus. As author Madeline Miller wrote in her Reader's Guide,
I found myself particularly moved by his [Achilles'] desperate grief over the loss of his companion Patroclus. Patroclus is no more than a minor character in the Iliad, yet Achilles mourns him with a shocking intensity, unlike anything else in the entire work. Why? Who is this man whose death could undo the mighty Achilles?

Achilles is a mythological figure, son of the goddess Thetis, a sea-nymph, and the mortal Peleus. At the age of 9, he hand-picks the exiled prince Patroclus as his constant companion. Patroclus gains status and privilege, and as the boys grow their relationship strengthens into love. Thetis is displeased and tries to separate them, but their love is too powerful. When armies are assembled to do battle with Troy, Patroclus is there at Achilles' side. Achilles has known for years that he will become the Greeks' greatest warrior; the siege of Troy is his chance to shine. But there are other prophecies that weigh heavily on Achilles and Patroclus, not to mention the reader.

Madeline Miller breathes such life and emotion into her characters. Thetis is frightening; King Agamemnon is arrogant and cold-hearted; Odysseus is crafty. Achilles is beautiful, and the love between him and Patroclus is simultaneously intense and sweet. It's heartbreaking to watch the prophecies be fulfilled, and yet Miller offers an ingenious denouement that is wholly satisfying.

This 2012 Orange Prize winner is my best book of the year so far. ( )
8 vote lauralkeet | Jul 8, 2012 |
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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.
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1 vote Laine-Cunningham | Feb 22, 2015 |
Trojan War/Iliad slash fanfic. All the lead-up was pretty engaging and the prose had a spare but fluid quality to it. The treatment of the actual war felt a bit cursory, though I understood that Miller was more interested in character than in action scenes. Maybe what bothered me was that this was where it felt more like briefly retelling the Iliad than telling her own story, as most of the book had been. ( )
  kleos_aphthiton | Feb 8, 2015 |
I didn't expect to like The Song of Achilles as much as I did. I didn't expect to like it much at all, it being a well-regarded book about a mythological warrior, whose story was already familiar to me in broad strokes, if not in the details. Not only would there be a lot of battle scenes, but I knew how the story ended. But[Madeline Miller tells the familiar story in a fresh way and her love of Greek mythology shows through.

While Achilles himself remains a bit of a cipher, his companion, Patroclus, is vividly real, and it's from his point of view that the story is told. The world Miller writes about is very different from our own, with centaurs and sea-nymphs, myth-makers and men who prefer to die young and violently, but leaving behind a glittering reputation, than to die old and have lived a life of obscure prosperity. But the fears and emotions, Miller tells the reader, were the same, with people struggling to survive and to know what the right thing to do is.

What results is a compelling, unputdownable story. We know the end before we begin, but so does Achilles himself, lending added weight to the decisions he makes. And Patroclus is a worthy narrator, as he changes from an uncertain, tentative boy into a man willing to take risks and make hard decisions. ( )
3 vote RidgewayGirl | Jan 9, 2015 |
okay, this is gonna be edited cus I'm at the library right now and I'm hungry but here's my quick verdict:

You'd think that I'd be all over this stuff (gratuitous background: former/failed classics student, mildly ashamed reader of trashy slash fanfiction). But I found this novel disappointing, especially since I had read so many gushing reviews. Despite Miller's credentials as a classics instructor at Brown), the book feels curiously fanfiction-y?? Don't get me wrong, the writing is beautiful in its simple, clear way (expect dozens of pretty similes comparing people's voices to the ocean or whatever), but I couldn't shake the feeling that a super-talented 16 year old girl could have written it.

The mythological aspect is pretty cheesy. There could have been a way to incorporate divine intervention into the story without it being so explicit. I think it's better to have men BELIEVING that the gods are meddling (think the sacrifice of Iphigenia in return for favorable winds) rather than to show direct evidence of the existence of the gods, but here, the gods literally walk the earth. I actually prefer the realist touch of interpretations like the Brad Pitt vehicle "Troy" (which doesn't stop it from being a terrible movie. don't watch it.)

also Patroclus is basically like Bella Swann for like 3/4th of the book. Jeez we get it, you have a giant hard-on for Edward Cullen Achilles. Thetis (Achilles's controlling mother) and others express their bewilderment with Achilles choosing the wimpy Patroclus as his companion --I gotta say, I was puzzled too. but by the end, you finally catch a glimpse of what achilles saw in patroclus. patroclus and achilles have exchanged roles: Achilles becomes a whiny little bitch and under duress, Patroclus proves that he is truly the "best of the Myrmidons".

the most moving passage in the book is when patroclus and achilles are enjoying the golden days of their youth and achilles vows that he *will* be happy despite the fact that every epic hero that came before him (Heracles, Jason, etc.) experienced great tragedy. It's a beautiful, heartbreaking moment. we know that the boys can't escape fate, but we can't help but hope that maybe, this time, something will change.

I'm not really sure that "Song of Achilles" deserved to win 2012's Orange Prize (excuse me, the Women's Prize. Who came up with that name change again?) And if you really want to read about eros between young male heroes, I'd suggest trying Mary Renault instead. But if you still want to see what all the fuss is about, "Song of Achilles" is a quick and easy read. (I read it over the course of two nights during a summer derecho, electricity out, in my sweltering living room with a flashlight).

oh and finally, I can't finish this review without saying... achilles: top in the streets, bottom in the sheets Y/Y?!! ( )
  megantron | Jan 2, 2015 |
Lovely book and fun entertaining read. Only unfortunate matter is that all the characters visually resemble the actors from the troy movie including brad Pitt as Achilles. ( )
  lincolnpan | Dec 31, 2014 |
A cleverly written story of the Iliad (at least the Achilles' part of the Iliad) from the perspective of Patroclus, Achilles' closest friend. Wish I'd read The Iliad more recently to know how similar or divergent this book is, there are definitely liberties taken, but I enjoyed reading it. The relationships are realistically developed, and the interactions between the Gods and the humans are fascinating. There's a great synopsis of characters at the end, which would have been helpful to use throughout - has more of the back story than this is outside of the scope of this book. I'd love to read a similar reselling of The Odyssey next... ( )
  asawyer | Dec 31, 2014 |
i started out not liking it. War books aren't really my thing, neither is Greek mythology, but I knew a little bit about it from college, and it was our book club read, so I gave it a shot.
I love m/m novels, so that was a bonus.

Took me a while to get into it, but overall I thought it was a nice story! A nice re-telling of a part of mythology that doesn't always get touched on. ( )
  ariel.kirst | Nov 14, 2014 |
Admittedly, I am a biased reviewer. The author and I attended the same high school & college (she was 2 years ahead of me), and I am a very proud alum, a moderate classics nerd, and a sucker for tragic love stories. But I really did love this book. And it inspired me to read the copy of the Iliad that's been on my bookshelf for a dozen years. ( )
1 vote lexmccall | Sep 3, 2014 |
I had heard bad things about TSoA, when I picked it up at the local library I could not remember what those were but after a couple of pages I decided to keep going. I am not much of a historical fiction fan but definitely enjoy M/M love stories so all in all, the plot was attractive. I did not expect, despite knowing the myth it is based on, to end up weeping and clutching my book in desperation. I also did not expect to finish the book so fast, what with work and other books I am reading simultaneously but if one thing must be said for The Song of Achilles is that it is readable, the kind of story that will not let go of you. Part of it it´s its mythic power, the fact that a retelling always feels closer and more personal to a reader aware of the original. Like a rumour finally clarified into truth, a secret spilled in its totality... but another part is Miller´s skill with language. It is true that sometimes her poetic narrator seems to go a bit far with his metaphors but, although I did not find all of them moving, focalized through his personality I found them believable.

One thing I would have liked is to have seen more of Achilles. Patroclus whole universe revolves around him and yet, Achilles rarely gets any words printed. He is what Patroclus thinks he is, not a person on his own right. In a way this reflects the way the myth creates the characters but although I believe Patroclus loves him, I can´t seem to share in the sentiment because Achilles is, simply, too far. Patroclus himself, on the other hand, as well as many other characters in considerable less depth (Tethis, Odysseus) become individuals but not so his philtatos.
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1 vote Evalangui | Aug 22, 2014 |
I read this one for the book club. It's a retelling of pre-Iliad and Iliad events through the eyes of Patroclus, Achilles' childhood friend and later comrade and lover.

It's pretty bad when my favorite characters end up being Thetis, Achilles' sea goddess mother, and Chiron, the boys' centaur teacher. As for the main love story, it just didn't grab me--just because it's slash fanfiction doesn't mean it's automatically deep.

Things that turned me off were the wandering verb tenses (some text is in present tense; some in past tense, with no rhyme or reason), typos (Phoinix/Phoenix), and the presence of threatened and actual rape (although I do think the author kept it to a minimum).

Positives: The political maneuvering between the immortals and mortals, and giving us the sense of just how LONG the siege of Troy dragged on. But overall, it just wasn't my cup of tea. ( )
  Pat_F. | Jul 25, 2014 |
Retelling if The Iliad with gay Achilles and awkward Patroclus ( )
  Mumineurope | Jul 13, 2014 |
This is a retelling of Homer's Iliad. The author has brought the characters to life, with narration done through the eyes of Patroclus, companion to Achilles. It is also part a love story. Really a beautifully crafted work. I hope she produces a similar retelling for the Odyssey. ( )
  seanvk | Jun 30, 2014 |
Very Mary Renualt, but a bit blah and limp. In its favor it is very transporting. You can easily lose yourself in its world and there are lots of sensual details (though no sex at all), but something about it lacks the force and urgency that the plot seems to demand. ( )
  knownever | May 4, 2014 |
Bummers! Greek bummers! Ancient Greek bummers! And, as any scholar of the classics will tell you, that’s the worst kind of bummer.
Trash! Utter trash! Compelling trash! And that’s the worst kind of trash.
Madeline Miller’s ‘The song of Achilles’ is so shockingly bad that at several points I had to wonder if it was some sort of satire, parody or just the result of a bet. For instance, a young man’s sexual awakening is celebrated with a spot of self-pollution in a grove of trees, after which he discovers a fallen branch and decides to fashion it in to a present for his mate. That’s right, he gets wood, and he wants to give his wood to his special friend, after polishing it for a while.
The first half of the book is a love story. Prince Achilles is half god, half human and all hero-in-waiting. He befriends the narrator, the exiled, ex-Prince, Patroclus, and the kids bond, literally. It’s all rather sweet, bashful gazes across the dinner table, assistance with a fig-juggling practice, harp lessons and then straight to the bedchamber. Of course, Achilles’s sea-nymph mother is disapproving of Achilles friendship with Patroclus. Possibly because he’s a bloke, more likely because he’s mortal.
Mediterranean metaphors, not all as subtle as the woody one, abound. Skin at night is as dark as olive, kisses are sweet as figs, jizz is as white as sand on a moonlit beach, that sort of thing. It’s all very romantic. And restrained. As soon as the boys put their hands below the belt, the action stops. Like in boxing.
The prose style is spartan. After all, these are fighters, as well as lovers. Even when they lounge in an olive grove, spitting seed at one another, they do so in short sentences.
The second half of the book is a war story, specifically, some of the siege of Troy.
In the end, this is a tragic (Greek tragedy, and that’s the worst kind of tragedy) fable about celebrity. Achilles may be a god, but his ego is monsterous. He knows he’s good, he wants to be great, he wants to be a legend. From birth he has been fated to be history’s greatest warrior, this knowledge is both spur and burden and he is portrayed as a doomed rock-star demi-god of war with the looks to match.
The book deals with the mythic aspects of ancient Greece in the time of gods and heroes in a fascinatingly straightforward fashion. Gods exist, as do mythical beasts like centaurs. These are not, however, beings encountered in everyday life and those who meet with heroes and demi-gods are overawed, like modern mortals meeting A list celebrities. Petroclus, the most mortal of narrators, effectively conveys the strangeness of this world of gods, magic, warfare and privilege, our guide to an enchanted, dangerous world.
The whole thing is essentially like an extended answer to the question ‘what would the story of Achilles be like if it was reported in today’s tabloid press and celebrity magazines? The love and the war, the huge egos, the beauty and the predictions are given a tabloidesque telling, where short sentences suit.
Maybe that’s what’s so compelling. The war is reported in an immediate fashion, a clash not just of mighty muscles but mighty egos. And then there’s the question, is a woman really worth all this? The ten year siege, the murder and mayhem, the looting and the bloody, bloody warfare. Even with Achilles doing what he was born to do, cutting a bloody swath through the foe, there’s noting heroic about the gore-soaked figure who returns to his tent every evening.
Ultimately, this is a book about destiny, running from it, fulfilling it. All Achilles cares about, Petroclus apart, is poets writing about him, potters making vases about him.
It’s all about fame and celebrity.
So, trash.
Full disclosure, if I had a spare five minutes, I would find myself reaching for the book, eager to see what happened next and, on a train journey, so engrossed was I that on one occasion, I almost missed my stop. Engrossed in utter trash, but engrossed all the same. ( )
1 vote macnabbs | Mar 23, 2014 |
This is a retelling of the Greek tale of the Trojan War, specifically the involvement of the hero Achilles. I suppose most of us know the outline of the story, even if we're a bi t more hazy over the details, but this is a fantastic retelling. Told mostly in the first person by Achilles' boon companion, the tale starts when they are young boys, and continues through their teenage years to manhood and death (I don't think that's a spoiler...). The first person telling makes it all very vibrant and immediate. It is a book that is, primarily, about love, ambition, greed and grief - the whole gamut of human emotion is here. While Achilles is half god, Patroclus, his companion, is of more earthy stock. No great high flyers in his ancestry, and he's not a great sucess as a son, but comes into his own as he grows. Throughout the book there is prophecy concerning Achilles (and this avoids the problem of knowing the ending, you all know the ending) but the interpretation of them is not clear. The ending overturns these somewhat in that the expected events after Achilles death don;t occur. What does shows yet another facet of grief and the ability to let go. the last few chapters had me in tears.
I thought this an excellent read. ( )
  Helenliz | Feb 12, 2014 |
This captures the crazed ferocity of The Iliad and Achilles' bond with supposed lover (it is not really explicit in Homer) Patroclus unlike anything I've ever read since Logue's Homer esp. All Day Permanent Red: The First Battle Scenes of Homer's Iliad Rewritten (http://www.librarything.com/work/129758).

The contemporary Iliad translations like Robert Fagles' (http://www.librarything.com/work/5057/book/55626030) and Stephen Mitchell's (http://www.librarything.com/work/5057/book/80878876) are both terrific, but are still limited in scope to Homer's text where Patroclus is a fairly minor character and Achilles' motivation for revenge on Hector might seem a bit thin and unknown.

Madeline Miller has built an entire prequel of Achilles' and Patroclus' lives prior to the Iliad and it isn't until Chapter 25 (pg. 271 of 378 in this paperback edition) that the narrative links up with the beginning of Homer. If you never got it (The Iliad) before, all of sudden you can totally buy all of it, the bonds of friendship & love and the savagery of revenge & bloodlust. You'll even buy into the Gods and Immortals as full participants, which probably makes this a magic-realism novel in the contemporary lingo.

Highly recommended! ( )
1 vote alanteder | Jan 31, 2014 |
I'm of two minds about this one. There were some very nicely written parts, but I thought the prose and pacing could be inconsistent. For some reason, while Miller did quite a good job at conjuring up the world in which Achilles and Patroclus lived as children, the siege of Troy never came alive for me in the same way. I never quite could picture the camps in which they lived, the landscape they were inhabiting, the visceral nature of the battlefield. I liked that Miller did the best she could to foreground the female characters of the story without being anachronistic—in Deidameia, Briseis, Thetis, we are shown what is it to be a woman within a thoroughly androcentric, misogynist society. Miller's version of Thetis was perhaps my favourite part of the book—a determined, frightening mother.

But for all that Miller is I think honestly trying to explore gender and sexuality in the Ancient Greek world here, there were some choices she made which discomfited me. Would there have been unease between some Ancient Greeks at a sexual relationship between two mature men which took place at a more or less equal footing? Yes. Not because it was a same-gender relationship, but because one of the men would have to be a 'passive' partner and past a certain age, this was generally speaking considered to be dishonorable.

Yet I was a little bewildered at some of the choices which Miller made about Patroclus' character and his relationship with Achilles. That he may have been considered passive by some (and we have no textual confirmation in the Iliad one way or the other as to who was erastes and who eromenos; in fact I think Patroclus is referred to as being older than Achilles) doesn't mean that he had to have been passive in character. Yet this is the Patroclus Miller writes about. She makes it clear that this version of Patroclus is one who only experiences attraction to other men—and also makes him someone who's not a warrior (though he is one in the Iliad), who prefers to be a healer, who is definitely the less dominant partner in the relationship. Even when he's almost thirty years old, his narrative voice still sounds like that of a teenager, and he moons endlessly over an Achilles who is pretty flat as a character. It made me uneasy, this sort of replication of some of the dodgier gender tropes you find in slash fanfiction. It's definitely a readable book, but I think you could find re-tellings and re-examinations of the Iliad of comparable or better quality in a given year's Yuletide challenge. ( )
  siriaeve | Jan 20, 2014 |
A beautifully woven retelling of a classic tale. The poetic style of the prose is worthy of Homer. ( )
2 vote KayMackey | Jan 7, 2014 |
Words I’d use to describe this book: gorgeous, sensual, exquisite, beautiful, poetic… I could go on, but you get the idea — I really liked this book.

The language used by Miller is stunningly, amazingly well written. I felt almost as if I was reading poetry through, but it was clear and paced perfectly throughout. I loved that, even though this is a retelling of an old tale and I knew exactly how it was going to end (something I began to dread about a quarter of the way through because I knew it was going to GUT me, and I was so so right), I still couldn’t put the damn thing down. I read like it was all new to me. Maybe that’s because we’re following Patroclus, or maybe it’s because the focus is on the emotions and relationships between the characters, their wants and desires, and not the battles. But it felt like I was discovering these characters all over again.

I adored everyone in the book too. Although I enjoy Greek mythology, I can’t claim to have studied it or read up on it extensively, so it was nice to see three dimensional characters here. They’ve always come off in legends as sort of one dimensional to me, but here, Achilles was fully fleshed out, and the ending (which I won’t spoil) just emphasized what a rich characterization Miller had given him. I hope she writes more and focuses on some of the side characters here (such as Odysseus, or Helen herself).

I don’t have much bad to say about this. Actually, I don’t have anything bad so much as a tiny critique, but I would love a “Song of Patroclus” to accompany this. I felt the first person took away just a teensy bit from the romance, as sometimes it seemed it was more Patroclus admiring Achilles rather than the two mutually admiring each other. I want to know what Achilles saw in Patroclus from the very beginning, when he was described by everyone else as weak, cowardly, ugly, etc. Because of how much attention Patroclus lavished on Achilles, I don’t think we really learned much about his character. His life was about his lover, not about him. I would love to see how Achilles’s life revolved around Patroclus in return.

Still, an undeniable 5/5 stars. ( )
2 vote BookishMatters | Jan 7, 2014 |
This is not a review, it's a lot of confused, biased lines:

Everyone who's read the Iliad knows how it ends. Patroclus and Achilles both die. For these two Princes, the Iliad is cruel and inescapably sad. God, what a tragedy. There is no Happily Ever After for them, (or the readers) not even a promise of one. I wanted to hate Madeline Miller, for making me fall in love with the idea of Achilles and Patroclus only to kill them off anyway. But that was Homer. And how could I, when her prose is so deep and rich, and her story so glorious and wonderful? Except Patroclus waxes too tender for . . . he's what? Ten? Eleven years old?

Anyway, they grow to become best friends. In another story, Patroclus might have been Achilles's crony, but in this one they're (soul) mates all the way. That's because Achilles and Patroclus are too honed to be real Greek men. No raping, no pillaging, Miller has fine-tuned them. In time, Achilles and Patroclus share a bed too, and boy, is it steamy, but it isn't a blow-by-blow (ha ha) view and the description isn't too graphic. Miller instead focuses on the love and loyalty between the two. It's a classic best-friends-turned-lovers romance, straight out of a Chick Flick. (Or a Male Tale?) The gushing and pining was too Hallmark for me, but I know some of you love it. As Madeline Miller says when asked,"How did you come up with your theory that their friendship grew into love?" "I stole it from Plato!"

They are head over heels, legs-over-shoulder in love. In the end, I believe Patroclus is Achilles's better half. While I was reading it, I did find myself asking at some point, "Achilles doesn't deserve Patroclus, does he?" because, let's face it, Achilles is an asshole, (oh my god, when will I stop finding these double meanings? D'oh!) but mostly it was "Why Patroclus, Achilles?" Of course, Achilles says it himself, "Because he is surprising." but it isn't enough for me.

When Hector kills Patroclus, Achilles goes mad with grief. It is heart breaking to read. His agony is so intense, I could feel it. My tears were a mirror of his. I couldn't help but ache for him. But I expected Achilles to take over once Patroclus died, not the ghost of Patroclus! Pfft. I'm ranting, amen't I? What I'm trying to say is, even though it was brilliant, it had some small flaws. But, listen, I loved every second of it. This is a debut novel, after all. Considering that, it was real close to perfect. I'm so glad I found The Song of Achilles. This book thoroughly deserves to win The Orange Prize For Fiction.

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1 vote potterhead9.75 | Jan 5, 2014 |
review What a difference three years can make! Three years ago I started reading this book and couldn't continue beyond about 5 pp. or so. So I closed the book and returned it to the library unread. Recently I picked it up again and goodness, it's one of the best novels I've ever read!! It's another variation on the Troy theme, but very original and marvellously written! It's the story of the deep friendship between Achilles and Patroclus: using one of C.S. Lewis's wonderful definitions in The Four Lov...more What a difference three years can make! Three years ago I started reading this book and couldn't continue beyond about 5 pp. or so. So I closed the book and returned it to the library unread. Recently I picked it up again and goodness, it's one of the best novels I've ever read!! It's another variation on the Troy theme, but very original and marvellously written! It's the story of the deep friendship between Achilles and Patroclus: using one of C.S. Lewis's wonderful definitions in The Four Loves: philia [love between friends]--the love between them.

As a young boy, Patroclus quarrels with another boy and kills him by accident. To satisfy the other parents' thirst for vengeance and as a punishment, his father exiles him, strips him of his heritage, and sends him to the court of King Peleus of Phthia, a small Greek kingdom, to be fostered until Patroclus reaches manhood, along with other princes. There, the shy, awkward, naive boy meets Achilles. After a time, Achilles asks his father if Patroclus can be his close companion or attendant [in Greek: therapon]. When King Peleus asks why he chooses Patrolus out of all the boys in the palace, all Achilles answers is: "He is surprising." Their friendship grows and deepens. They both study with Chiron, a kindly centaur. Among other things, they learn the healing arts. Then comes the Trojan War. Their friendship persists. Sometimes I felt as though Patroclus was completely besotted with Achilles and wondered if Achilles had chosen Patroclus to be his friend only so he could dominate--not in a nasty way, but to feel superior and have someone who hero-worships him, always at his side. Patroclus is not a fighter, so he uses his healing skills in the Greeks' "hospital". He befriends Briseis, Achilles's spoil of war; when she declares her love for him, he rejects her gently. Agamemnon, the commander, takes Briseis for his own; when this happens Achilles feels he's lost his honor and refuses to fight. Morale in the Greek army plunges without Achilles. One day, to try to revive flagging spirits, Patroclus dons Achilles's armor [the Greeks will think he is Achilles] and is driven in Achilles's chariot to lead the Greeks, to face the Trojans and to meet his fate.

I liked that this novel emphasized their psychology, although there was plenty of 'action'. I could identify with Patroclus. Other characters were well deliniated. I couldn't stop reading although I knew the basic outcome. Some of the author's turns of phrase were startling and original. The novel as a whole was poignant; I had tears in my eyes a couple of times and often, a lump in my throat. This novel has given me a different view of Achilles and Patroclus; it's more personal, not merely something in a dry old epic. ( )
  janerawoof | Dec 28, 2013 |
See the full review at Short & Sweet Reviews.

Let's start with this: This book absolutely gutted me. I hadn't expected to be quite as captivated by it as I was, honestly, but by the time I was maybe a quarter of the way into the book, I was completely sold. I read around the last half, if not more, of the book in one sitting, curled up in bed, cat sitting on top of me. I spent the last several chapters trying not to cry. It was one of those books. Too bad I hadn’t finished this one for the Best Book Ever: Super Emotional Party Time theme the other week.

The Song of Achilles is a retelling of the Iliad, told from the perspective of Patroclus, dear friend and (as the book, and some historical interpretations, tells it) lover of Achilles. Patroclus is an interesting choice of a narrator. We grow up with him, we see Achilles through his eyes. Patroclus isn't a warrior, but he finds himself going to war, anyway. He's bound to the war just as surely as he's bound to Achilles, and they weather it together. Over the many years of the siege of Troy, we see Patroclus and Achilles grow from boys to men, and while Achilles might be thought of as 'the best of the Greeks', it's Patroclus who can always get through to Achilles, despite his stubborn nature and near god-like status. He's not an unbiased narrator by any means, but his narrative voice feels so authentic and passionate that your heart will ache for him, with all of the trials he must go through. ( )
1 vote goorgoahead | Dec 4, 2013 |
3.5 Stars

This modern retelling of the Iliad has been frequently compared to Mary Renault, a comparison that piqued my interest. While Renault writes of historical figures who have entered into mythology, Miller places mythical figures against a historic background. When dealing with the supernatural, Renault uses a far more subtle hand—the magic and spiritual power in her stories comes from more abstract concepts of duty, fate, and a character’s role in history and society, while in The Song of Achilles, as in the Iliad, gods really do walk the earth. Yet so do mankind, and Miller brings this legend down to a highly personal level.

In doing so, she does have one other difference in approach from Mary Renault. Renault’s ancient Greece is inhabited, and readers are dropped into it to sink or swim as best they may. The actor character in The Mask of Apollo assumes we’ll be nearly as familiar with the stage as he is (even though more than half the plays he references are lost to time). The reader keeps up by drawing on inferences, but Renault never slows down her plot to explain things. She would never, as Miller does, take a paragraph to explain such basic period knowledge as what the punishment of Tantalus was (spoiler: it’s in the name). Sometimes there’s a sense of lecture in Song of Achilles that didn’t ruin the entire story for me, but did leave me feeling patronized.

Although, on the subject of stating things outright: the other obvious comparison to Mary Renault is that both Song of Achilles and Renault’s body of work include, unapologetically, men who have sex with other men as protagonists.

It’s hardly crass or pornographic, though I don’t think anyone following my reviews would really worry about that. In fact, Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship is built up to very slowly—sometimes too slowly to my taste. The opening chapters include an excellent scene introducing Helen from the point of view of Patroclus as her child suitor (among a crowd of suitors including much more macho types), but after that it’s a timeline of boys growing up in a hypermasculine warrior culture with all resultant angst, interspersed with the petty politics of small kings. Those politics were interesting, and young Patroclus and Achilles were likeable enough, but as kids they spend a lot of time being told what to do, taught what to do, and wondering what to do—and not enough time actually doing things.

The most interesting character in the front of the novel is Thetis. Here Miller did something unique, portraying with sympathy and awe this powerful, violated, vengeful sea-nympth as both a mother and a goddess. I would found Thetis uncanny, yet pitied her at once. Considering this story is narrated by a male character within an androcentric culture, the fact that Thetis wasn’t made a caricature made me happier with the story as a whole and with Patroclus (who, to be fair, has completely reasonable grounds to disagree with and dislike his boyfriend’s mother).

Other female characters are handled with varying degrees of sympathy and kid gloves. Achilles’ wife, whose name I no longer remember, was not particularity standout—clingy and shrill and part of Thetis’ plots along with her father. Again, this is from Patroclus’ hardly impartial POV. Later, Iphegenia seems awfully disempowered, at least compared to my favored telling of her story by Euripedes—for the sake of the themes of the story, perhaps, but a modern retelling could be a little more willing to showcase its women. Things improved with Breisis and some of the other captive Trojan women. They weren’t exactly empowered feminist icons, but it’s hardly Miller’s fault what the Iliad did with its women, and at least the female characters get some respect and protection. Achilles and Patroclus are decent men among a pack of Greeks who aren’t gilded heroes of manhood. The deconstruction of violence and machismo was more powerful during these scenes of actual warfare. All the same, some readers may be frustrated at Patroclus’ downgrade as a warrior from the original myths. He sometimes seems pacifistic because he doesn’t have the chops to handle an actual fight. All the same, it’s in my nature to enjoy subversions of masculinity, and his scenes treating injured warriors in the medicine tent were truly affecting.

I also found Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship to be endearing and powerfully portrayed. While the Greeks, at least during the Classical period, were fine with practicing a certain sort of same-sex relationship (one that, let’s be frank, comes with some pretty gross baggage about age differences and disparities in power, pleasure, and consent between active/passive partners—all together now, “Because masculinity”), as egalitarian lovers the two draw some flack. This may be a historical in-joke, as throughout the ages nobody has been able to agree whether Achilles or Patroclus “topped” (and, because masculinity, this has been a vital question for some people’s interpretation. If this is an ongoing argument with regards to the characters in your own slash fandom, take comfort or at least perspective from certain passages in the Symposium). Actually, considering how famous these two have been, it’s surprising that Song of Achilles is one of the first books to actually portray their romantic relationship.

In fact, Odeysseus (suitably wily) has a line near the end of the book: “What is admired in one generation is abhorred in another,” which may be taken as a statement on the modern struggle for LGBT rights. For a thing while, discussing the possibility of these two ancient heroes being gay (or acting gay—one anachronism in this story is that Patroclus does identify as a man-who-only-likes-men, which, as Breisis appropriately points out, is unusual as most Greek men will do both sexes) was a thing that didn’t happen, at least not in the mainstream. Even Mary Renault’s stories, which I’m sure were groundbreaking in the 1960s, had to be very subtle and circumspect. Now that the fact has been made explicit, in an award-winning book no less, perhaps we can hope for more such interpretations to come.

This review is cross-posted from ( )
1 vote T.Arkenberg | Dec 4, 2013 |
*** Spoiler Alert ***

It was a hard read although well-written. Though it's always nice to go to a different world (Greek myths) the central love-story (gay) just confirmed me in my opinion that it wouldn't be for me! ( )
  jerhogan | Dec 2, 2013 |
This book has ruined my life: it ended.

I cannot even form a coherent review, because it was hands down the best book I have read in many years. I literally could not stop reading it, even at the expense of getting to savor it.

It was burning, haunting, beautiful, heart wrenching, and everything that love should be.

100% life ruiner. ( )
5 vote AddisonLane | Oct 26, 2013 |
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