A tale of gods, kings, immortal fame, and the human heart, The Song of Achilles is a dazzling literary feat that brilliantly reimagines Homer’s enduring masterwork, The Iliad. An action-packed adventure, an epic love story, a marvelously conceived and executed page-turner. A thrilling, profoundly moving, and utterly unique retelling of the legend of Achilles and the Trojan WarAmazon
This is my book review for Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
I intend to use the ***ASPECT method for my discussion and will not spoil the ending.
Why THIS Book?
It is still #LGBTQ #Pride month so I am still reading queer litterature. After three lesbian (or at the very least queer women) books (1,2, and 3), I decided it was time to read a “gay” book. I pulled up a list online and Bonus! recognized one of the titles as being in my, very large, TBR pile. Double Bonus, this is the same author as Circe which I reviewed and enjoyed earlier this year.
Atmosphere / Style / Plot
Like Circe, this is set in “ancient times” but definitely with a more mortal/human lens as our main character, Patroclus, is a human boy who grows into a man. The tone is… part memoir, part coming of age, part romance, and part tragedy. Most of us know the basic structure of the Achilles and Patroclus myth, so while Miller plays with the details and the motivations of the characters and the circumstances might be slightly different than what we remember from, say, 9th grade English class (or that one college semester we spent reading the Illiad), the big plot points don’t change that much.
This means that the story is both familiar and new. Even though we pretty much know what is going to happen…. It is still fascinating to watch it play out.
The fact that we still feel the emotions of the highs and lows even when the plot itself isn’t surprising, is a sign of just how talented Miller is at spinning this familiar tale.
Her writing style is easy to read and her descriptions are lovely even if I did get a tiny bit tired of hearing about how glorious Achilles’ feet were.
Again, we sort of know these characters but Miller lets us see behind the stories we thought we knew for development that is far deeper and more meaningful. The fact that Achilles and Patroclus are hella gay together is not a cheap schtick. It feels earned and valid… and it colors everything that happens in such a way that I am hard-pressed to remember the “actual” myth after reading this. Maybe I just prefer this version, where Patroclus is obsessed with Achilles (especially his beautiful feet) and Achilles LOVES Patroclus so much and so deeply that even if we, like Patroclus himself, never fully understand why we don’t question the severity of that love.
Because this is love. Not flirtation. Not friendship. This is deep, romantic, and tragic love.
Ok, so one of the things that Miller did in Circe was go beyond the story we knew and talked about universal truths like how parents want to protect their children no matter what and how a mother’s love is fierce, powerful, and ultimately self-sacrificing. Like I said in my review, the part that resonated with me (a mother) the most was when she talked about her fears for her child and the difficulty in letting him go out into the world, outside of her protection.
In Song of Achilles, Miller does a similar thing. This time her universal theme is about family acceptance. We have the achingly familiar (especially to those in the queer community) situation where your life partner’s parent(s) hate you, despise what you stand for, think their child deserves someone different, “better”, etc. There is also the issue of parents and society not really “getting” you or understanding why you have picked the love/life mate you have… but the parental overtones of judgment, disappointment, and contriving to control you… those are universal and deep. Part of what makes this book work so well is that even though I am not a banished princeling in ancient times or the part god warrior that he loves, I can see myself in both of these characters. We have different struggles to be sure, but there are elements that resonate across the time, gender, and diety, divide.
Yes. Again, even though I “knew” the ending, I was compelled to keep reading… and honestly part of me hoped that things might work out differently, but… they didn’t. However, and staying away from spoilers, I will say that the very end made me cry and also filled me with the sort of “squee glee” that only happens when two lovers kiss after a long separation. In other words, yes… everyone dies (it is a Greek tragedy after all) but you will probably be crying both sad and happy tears at the end.
Would I recommend it:
Oh yes. Definitely. And again, you don’t need to be queer. This book has stuff for everyone… it is not just a “gay” book even though, yes, it is hella gay. I would highly recommend it for the story, the writing, and the universal truths. And again… That ending… /chef’s kiss.
One last thing: My copy of the book says it was the “Winner of the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction” and I had never heard of the Orange Prize… I looked it up.
The Orange Prize for Fiction (currently known as the Women’s Prize for Fiction and formerly known as the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction from 2007 to 2008) is one of the United Kingdom’s most prestigious literary prizes, annually awarded to a female author of any nationality for the best original full-length novel written in English, and published in the United Kingdom in the preceding year. The prize celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing from throughout the world
And now you know.
*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)
A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.
S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?
P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?
E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?
C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?
T This? Why did I read *This* book?
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