The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Historical fiction, Mythology, Retelling
Pages: 389 pages (UK Kindle edition)
Published: 5th September 2011 by Bloomsbury (UK) & 6th March 2012 by Ecco (US)
Beautifully heartbreaking and tragic, Madelline Miller’s first novel burst with palpable emotions.
Countless amazing things have been raised and sang for the Miller’s craft on The Song of Achilles and Circe, and that speaks volumes on how ridiculous it is that it took me this long to finally get around to reading it. In truth, there was a hesitancy inside me; The Illiad, the stories of Achilles, Hector, and Odysseus are stories that I’ve read and heard about so many times before in several mediums. In my mind, before I read this book, I simply didn’t think that I would love reading another retelling surrounding this tale again. As you can guess from my high rating, Miller has righted the wrong notion that nestled deep in me.
“True. But fame is a strange thing. Some men gain glory after they die, while others fade. What is admired in one generation is abhorred in another.” He spread his broad hands. “We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory. Who knows?” He smiles. “Perhaps one day even I will be famous. Perhaps more famous than you.”
If there’s one thing that we can agree and admire about Achilles, it would be his strength. Almost every story about the legend of Achilles portrayed him on a similar nature; he’s a mortal who possesses godlike abilities for battles. Bow down before his prowess. And it’s not like Miller didn’t include Achilles’ skills for devastation in her retelling; she did magnificently. However, Miller goes above and beyond by humanizing him through Patroclus’ eyes. Miller starts the story from Patroclus’ and Achilles’ childhood, and she successfully showed the genuine development in their characterizations and relationship that the passage of time can’t prevent.
“He is a weapon, a killer. Do not forget it. You can use a spear as a walking stick, but that will not change its nature.”
The entire novel is told exclusively through the first perspective of Patroclus, and this is what sets Miller’s retelling apart from so many other media. This reading experience reminded me of reading Lancelot by Giles Kristian. Both Giles Kristian and Madeline Miller did the same thing with their craft. Through Patroclus’ view, we get to see Achilles’ vulnerability, and we also get to see Achilles’ aptitude for virtues that most of the time were concealed in many retellings. I thought knowing how the journey will end for these characters would diminish my experience, but the opposite occurred; the hindsight in the finality of their story actually elevated my reading experience extensively. For example, there were lines—I won’t mention them in my review—about Hector repeatedly spoken by Achilles that act as a dagger that inflicted a sharp cut to the heart every time it’s unsheathed.
“There are no bargains between lion and men. I will kill you and eat you raw.”
There’s an enchanting quality in Miller’s prose. For almost a decade, hundreds of thousands of readers/reviewers around the world have been charmed by her writing style, and now you can definitely count me among these entranced readers. What I found to be the most incredible aspect of this novel is how well-conveyed were the feelings of the characters; they popped out of the pages effectively. It is always crucial to learn what truly matters in life and to never lose sight of them; trust, pride, jealousy, and the seduction of glory tests Patroclus’ and Achilles’ relationship to its maximum limit. The pacing was great, and the last five chapters of this novel capture the everlasting brilliance of the horror and tragedy in this tale. The sense of grief, the meteoric fury, and the comfort that love provides amidst blood and death felt profoundly physical to me.
“And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone.”
The cover art of this book usually depicts the golden armor/helmet/lyre of Achilles, and there’s an underlying message behind these cover arts; it contains mandatory advice that you should prepare yourself before reading this book. Guard your heart and mind carefully; there’s a prophecy conjured that they won’t remain unscathed after you read the breathtaking lyrics written in The Song of Achilles. Every page was a bait to lure me away from reality, and I devour those bait willingly. I look forward to reading Circe very soon to witness more of Miller’s talent, and more importantly, to put her storytelling as an item to be locked in my memories.
“I am made of memories.”
Aren’t we all, Patroclus?
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