The Song of Achilles
By Madeline Miller
Harper Collins 2012
From the library
The Song Of Achilles is the debut novel of Madeline Miller and the winner of this year’s Orange Prize. Ms. Miller takes the story of the Greek hero Achilles and gives it new life with exquisite characterization and beautiful prose. This time, the story is told from the view of Patroclus, a young prince banished from his home. Patroclus becomes a ward of King Peleus, father of the golden boy Achilles. The boys become closer than anyone could have imagined. When King Menelaus calls upon an old oath, Achilles and Patoclus journey to Troy. But their lives are not their own – the gods have already determined their destiny.
While reading this book, I had to remind myself that this is Miller’s first novel. This is a great book. Miller has taken a few lines of The Iliad and brought them to vibrant life. While Homer gives us the basic details of plot, we never understand why Achilles relates the way that he does to the events of the Trojan War. By filling in the backstory and the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, the efforts of Achilles, Patroclus, and the other Greeks to overcome the decisions of the gods becomes inspiring and heartbreaking.
The relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is created incredibly well. As children, they are very different. It has been foretold that Achilles will be the greatest warrior of his generation. Patroclus is weak and awkward around other people. He expects to keep his head down and avoid attention. When Achilles takes interest in Patroclus, their friendship gives him the confidence to stand up for himself and the people who he loves. Their relationship slowly and realistically grows from friendship to love. Miller does an excellent job showing the awkward moments of a new relationship and the beauty of enduring love.
“I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”
Ms. Miller has written an amazing debut novel. She manages to take a classical tale that has been read for generations and make it her own without deviating from the original. Her beautiful language, compelling storytelling, and complex characters will compel you to keep turning pages, even when you fear you know how the story will end. The Song of Achilles is for readers who love mythology, who love history, and who love a well-crafted, beautiful story.