A retelling of the love story of Achilles and Patroclus. The Song of Achilles follows the story from Patroclus’ point of view, from boyhood, charting his friendship and eventual relationship with Achilles, all the way until their tragic end in the Trojan War. (And I’m not going to apologise for spoilers. That would be silly.) Not a recent publication, but I loved it a lot, so I’m going to stick a review here.
It’s taken me a little while to process this one. Not because I had problems with it, but because the emotions are so huge, they took a little longer to digest than normal sized non-mythic emotions. It is a joy as a story, and also caused me to reflect on the use of epic emotions in storytelling, and the role tragic stories play in modern literature. As a love story, it is beautiful and well studied, and those epic emotions are heartbreaking at times. I love the larger than life quality of it—Miller really captures the mythic nature of the originals, while making it all much more personal and focused. The writing style is simple but lyrical.
There are some changes to the familiar stories, the main one being Patroclus is not a fighter. He chooses to focus his skills solely on herbalism and healing. The relationship between Patroclus and Achilles is committed and unambiguously sexual from their teens, though the content is fairly chaste. Miller focuses on the emotion side of their relationship. The gods still play a role, though their interference isn’t quite as constant as in classical myth. But there is a sense of doom and fate hanging over the story. Achilles’ mother, the goddess Thetis, is really quite a sinister figure in this version, and is set against Patroclus, as unworthy of her son.
Miller does a good job of making Achilles a sympathetic character, despite his overweening pride and epic ability to sulk; we see him through the eyes of his lover, and all his best traits shine through.
There’s something extremely satisfying in following a love story from start to end. And to witness characters acting out these mythic stories, driven by such huge emotions. Whether you’re a fan of Greek myth, or just like a good love story, this is really a wonderful book.
3 thoughts on “Queer Book Club: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller”
I read this book about two years ago. It was a free download with the Guardian, I think. Anyway, as you found, it was an unexpected joy to read and I raced through it from start to finish. One of those stories that leaves a lasting impression.
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Definitely. Makes me want to write some mythic stuff.
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