Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Exquisite. That is the first word that comes to mind as I consider The Song of Achilles. Miller is a truly gifted author. The ways in which she was able to breathe new life and depth into characters who have been part of our collective consciousness for millennia is awe-inspiring. The story of Achilles and the Trojan War is one I have consumed in a plethora of formats and reiterations, but the way Miller tells the tale is without comparison.

“I am made of memories.”

I’ve owned this book on Kindle since 2013, on Audible and in paperback since 2019. And yet I still continued to put off reading it. Why? Because I knew the ending already, and I didn’t want to experience the devastation. Even after reading and deeply loving Circe, I shied away from The Song of Achilles I might have avoided it even more purposefully, because I knew that the gorgeous prose of Circe paired with the grief lacing Achilles’ story would be even more heartbreaking than I originally thought. And I was correct. But this is a story that is absolutely worth the pain I brings with it.

“He is half of my soul, as the poets say.”

What sets The Song of Achilles apart from other retellings of the Trojan War is the perspective through which Miller reveals the story. Our narrator is Patroclus, best friend and lover of Achilles since their youth. I ended up falling in love with the version of him Miller presented. Patroclus in no way held a candle to Achilles in the eyes of the world. He was fully mortal, unskilled at the arts of war, and preferred to spend his time learning the arts of healing instead. Patroclus wasn’t gilded and breathtakingly beautiful and godlike in his athleticism like his love. But the heart beating at his core was far lovelier than that of anyone around him. The depth Miller brought to this character was truly exceptional, and while I still don’t love Achilles, I came to understand him and appreciate him more through the eyes of Patroclus than I ever have before.

“When he died, all things soft and beautiful and bright would be buried with him.”

The love story here is one of the most devastating I’ve ever read. The tragic flavor of it brought to mind classic tales like Wuthering Heights, but with a protagonist I cared about far more. Because, in my eyes, at least, Patroclus is the protagonist of this story, not Achilles. Yes, Patroclus revolved his entire life around this man that he loved. And thus, the story revolves around Achilles. But Patroclus shines in a different, more poignant way that his demigod lover. Achilles is bright and beautiful, destined to burn brightly but burn out far too soon. This knowledge, this expectation of losing Achilles so young, is what defines every moment for Patroclus. But there is something about the way Patroclus sees the world, seeking to heal wounds and ease pain and help as many captive women as he can through Achilles’ fame, that both fills and breaks my heart. The only reason I felt anything for Achilles is because I felt so much for Patroclus.

“And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone.”

Have I mentioned the writing? Miller is one of the finest wordsmiths of our age, and I truly believe that both The Song of Achilles and Circe will be remembered and revered as classics throughout the annals of time. The stories themselves have already proven their longevity, but they’ve been transformed into something new and deep and powerful through Miller’s craftsmanship. Her prose is remarkable; even the smallest of sentences and turns of phrase can be packed with layers of meaning. And yet, Miller never seems to revel in the beauty of her own words, as some authors are wont to do. She comes across as comfortable and confident in her craft without ever seeming prideful of it. The humility in that balance, especially in a novel as exquisitely penned as this one, is as remarkable as the talent itself.

“In the darkness, two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dusk. Their hands meet, and light spills in a flood like a hundred golden urns pouring out of the sun.”

The Song of Achilles is a powerful, achingly beautiful retelling of one of our oldest stories. Miller’s take on this classic myth is lyrical, truly a song. I truly believe that The Song of Achilles and Circe will stand the test of time just as well as their Homeric inspirations.

You can order this book from: Blackwell’s | (Support Independent Bookstores)Amazon US | Amazon UK | Audible | (Another way to support independent bookstores!) | Book Depository (Free shipping worldwide!)

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