The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Song of Achilles is a retelling of the story of Achilles told from the point of view of Patroclus. I found this read intriguing and compelling. The pages simply flew by and it was all over too soon!
I enjoyed reading this from the point of view of Patroclus. Born a prince and banished to the Island of Phthia under the guardianship of King Peleus, Patroclus meets and eventually befriends Achilles. Starting out resentful and almost hating Achilles’ easy and lazy acceptance of his own brilliance Patroclus eventually becomes enamoured with the Prince. Of course, the story of Achilles is well known even if you haven’t studied the classics (which I haven’t) so I don’t really need to elaborate too much on plot. What, I think makes this story different is the modern way in which the story is told. The writing is crisp and to the point and the narrative is not interrupted by flowery descriptions. I did enjoy the writing style and in particular the descriptions of Achilles’ Goddess mother Thetis – a rather chilling woman by all accounts! You could practically taste the tension snapping and crackling whenever she appeared on the scene.
I did however have slightly mixed feelings about the book. Yes, I enjoyed it. It’s a love story – which I hadn’t realised or expected and which was quite a nice surprise. I felt quite easily transported to the time and place. I loved meeting some of the characters. I really liked Odysseus and Chiron and reading about Thetis was quite gripping. I also thought it started out really well, and actually concluded really well, I did flag a bit in the middle but the ending redeemed this with ease. I think my main problem with this was that I found Patroclus a tiny bit irritating and actually, to an extent Achilles. Patroclus just comes across too much in awe of Achilles. Even after they’ve been together for quite some time he constantly talks about how beautiful Achilles is – it sort of put me in mind a little of Edward and Bella and Bella’s constant harping on about how perfect Edward was. I don’t know, he was a little too fawning or over the top with his worshipping of Achilles and I also struggled to see what Achilles saw in Patroclus. The relationship just felt off kilter slightly and very much surface based. I suppose I wanted something a little bit more meaningful than simple attraction and , as I said, I really couldn’t see why Achilles chose Patroclus because at the earlier stages of the book he had few redeeming qualities really? And Achilles himself – he clearly doesn’t always make good choices and also feels no reason to be either kind to others or to explain his actions. He definitely comes across as arrogant – but I think that was the intention of the author – and anyway, look at his mother and it’s not really that difficult to see where he gets his disdain from!!. That being said I do think Patroclus redeemed himself at the end by becoming the voice of reason in the face of Achilles’ increasingly erratic behaviour.
In spite of my criticisms (which probably look worse than they really were ) in terms of Patroclus I did enjoy this. Maybe it would be different for those readers who have studied the Iliad, maybe this wouldn’t seem as good or they’d be more likely to unfavourably compare the two. For me, it was my first real step into reading a novel of this sort. I enjoyed the easy acceptance of the relationship. I liked the way that the Gods were not only believed in and worshipped and revered but also walked easily amongst humans and played such a big part in all the comings and goings. Very entertaining, I would certainly recommend it and wouldn’t hesitate to pick up more by this author.
I’m submitting this for the Once Upon a Time event I’m taking part in being hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings under the title of myths.
I couldn’t resist. Check out the different covers – really different – any preference?