This book is very well-written and very involving in places but I did have my reservations about it. Patroclus's narrative voice is believable and gives a convincing account of his childhood misfortunes, the events which lead up to the Trojan War and the War itself. I like the depictions of characters like Odysseus and Agamemnon very much, place and mood are very well evoked, and there are some exciting and very interesting episodes.
Madeline Miller is very keen to portray the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles as one of deep, enduring love, both spiritual and sexual. Whether or not this is justified by the source texts is arguable, but it is a noble aim. However, what we actually get is long, long periods where Patroclus moons around after Achilles like a love-sick puppy, to the point that I felt that the author herself was the one in love with Achilles and wasn't going to miss an opportunity to write a beautifully constructed sentence about his muscles, his hair, the curve of his chin or the soles of his feet (which seem to hold an endless fascination for her) and so on, which I eventually found almost unendurably tedious in places.
There were sufficient good things about this book to make a three-star rating seem very churlish, but it's only just four stars for me. Many other reviewers here have obviously enjoyed it very much, but I can only give it a qualified recommendation.
The Song of Achilles is the first novel (hopefully of many more) by a very talented author, Madeleine Miller. Anyone who has read The King Must Die and The Bull From The Sea by the legendary Mary Renault will lock in immediately to the style of this narrative. Achilles is brought to life from his childhood to his exploits at Troy, but this version of his life is told from the view of Patroclus, his friend, companion and lover. The love aspect of the relationship is handled sensitively and in a manner that will not offend the most sensitive of readers and the action scenes and characters of the heroes, both Greek and Trojan, are well addressed. Once started, I found it difficult to put this book down, and was reluctant to close it at the end. A very different approach to Homer's immortal story has hopefully launched a new literary star into ascendancy and I look forward to more of this lady's work in the near future.
on 20 August 2012
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I am a teenage girl who absolutely fell for the poetic prose of Madeline Miller. It had me crying at the end. I must say the first half of the book, when the pair are children, was far more enjoyable than the second for me - it is written so simply but so beautifully, and I found it utterly compelling and gentle. Yes, there is recurring adoration from Patroclus - but that's the point. it wouldn't work otherwise. I would thoroughly recommend this book. wonderful!
on 20 November 2013
From beginning to end, The Song of Achilles is gripping and emotive in a way I have never yet experienced from another novel. From Patroclus' flawless and poetic narrative, we see the world - and most importantly, Achilles - in a different way to one presented by other depictions of Troy and the events surrounding it. It is indeed a love story, so I am bemused by the reviews that find it hyper-romanticised; Miller has said that she wanted to write an evocative and intimate tale of the two lovers, not just re-tell the Illiad in modern prose.
This novel is a success on many levels, from its narrative voice and wonderful style of prose to its characterisation of all the characters, minor or major. I found this book to have rich and complex characters despite it being in first person, a feat not to be sneered at. It is fascinating and heartbreaking to see the rise and fall of Achilles through the eyes of his lover, and one that has no doubt brought many a reader to tears, myself included.
It is not necessary to have read the Illiad before reading this book, though vague knowledge of the story of Achilles and Patroclus helps the fantastic lines of foreshadowing hit far more emotional blows. Indeed, '"What has Hector ever done to me?"' must be up there with the most heartwrenching extracts from the novel, such as '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.'
Beautiful, tragic, and sublime, this novel is the first I would recommend to anyone looking for something to read. Madeline Miller, in her debut novel, has managed to capture the gilded world of gods and mortals whilst telling one of the most passionate and loved stories from Greek mythology. This book is more than 'worth' the read: it is a vital must.
on 10 March 2015
This song gives flesh and bone to an old story, Heroes have, glory, honour and love, and we have this book to remember and expand one of the great stories of men, women and gods.
The language is modern but beautifully lyrical used.
Patroclus introduces himself from the union of his parents, and expands the tale farther than human frailty would permit, but he never is anything but real and human, that credit goes to Madeline Miller whose love for this character gives us the pleasure of rediscovering, a world where destiny is inescapable, gods are openly meddlesome in the affairs of men and Centaurs educate young men in the arts of war, medicine, and philosophy.
This book explores openly the love Patroclus had for Achilles and vice versa, no excuses are made but it is delivered in a very tasteful way, because this book is about love not sexual titillation or exploitation, the motivations are of the heart and Eros is always more prevalent than Cupid in all the relationships.
on 27 September 2011
Those who pick up this novel expecting the sort of rousing martial adventure usually associated with the name Achilles will be in for a shock. This is a same-sex love story; achingly tender and as fraught with fate as that of Romeo and Juliet.
Patroclus is used to being a disappointment. His father is "a king and the son of kings", but his son is scrawny and unprepossessing: "I was not fast. I was not strong. I could not sing". The ideal son is like handsome, athletic Achilles, a boy his own age who takes the winner's garland at the games held by Patroclus' father. "His father comes to claim him, smiling and proud. My own father watches in envy. He turns to me. `That is what a son should be.' I watch King Peleus embrace his son. I see the boy toss the garland in the air, and catch it again. He is laughing, and his face is bright with victory."
Little wonder that when he's exiled to King Peleus' court at the age of ten, Patroclus bitterly resents charismatic, golden-haired Achilles with his preternatural skills and admiring sycophants. No one is more surprised than Patroclus when Achilles chooses him as his companion. Achilles recognizes a kindred-spirit, he too is lonely - who can a prince trust? As their cautious alliance develops into true friendship, Patroclus blossoms; for the first time in his life he has someone who values him, cares about him. The two grow up together, inseparable, and during three carefree years spent studying in isolation with the wise centaur Chiron, they become lovers as well as friends. But inevitable war with Troy brings an end to their idyll, and Patroclus must watch his soul-mate fulfill his implacable destiny as "the greatest warrior of his generation". Their love remains steadfast, though as Achilles grows increasingly ruthless and iron-hearted, it will be tested. Patroclus recalls Odysseus' warning words: "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."
There is no sense of fantasy about Miller's Bronze Age world. That gods walk among men is a reality taken as a given, if an unnerving and sometimes terrifying one. "The Song of Achilles" is a gem of a story, luminous and engaging, written with spare elegance and a heart-breaking ending which had me sniffling on cue. I loved it, but (and here I step into politically incorrect territory), I would - I'm a woman. Women will adore this tale. Irrespective of the gender of the lovers, it's pure, classic romance of the all-consuming sort which tragedy makes deathless - a love that time will never reduce to a state of comfortable mediocrity.
Did it ring true for me? Not with total conviction. Miller's Patroclus is thoughtful and caring, a healer. He has no inclination or aptitude for fighting and avoids it where possible. Let's face it, however disarming, he's frankly a bit of a nerd, a sensitive New Age Achaean. I had difficulty reconciling him with the image I take from the "Iliad" of a companion who is sword-brother as well as heart-brother. Can I see this Patroclus donning Achilles' armour and flying into a battle frenzy, killing all in his path and attacking the very walls of Troy? Not really. Maybe I just have to believe that he has stepped out of character at the will of the gods so that events can fall as predicted? The wonderful thing about the great, enduring stories like the "Iliad" is that they can be endlessly reinvented and interpreted in fresh ways. This is a very different vision, the quintessentially masculine world of the "Iliad" seen through the soft-focus lens of a romantic female sensibility; compelling, but at times disconcertingly alien.
Chosen as our Book Club choice this month, ‘The Song of Achilles’ took me back to my school days, studying Greek Lit in Translation, in 1966. I have never forgotten the lasting interest that course provided, learning about the gods, their influence on ancient Greeks, Odysseus and his journeys. This book is an easy read once you have mastered the cast list, its primarily a romance, with a tragedy of heroic proportions to close. All history lessons should be as enjoyable as this.
Achilles, half god, son of the terrifying sea goddess Thetis, is the flame haired shining star here, of course, with his close friend and supporter Patroclus. Thetis demands Achilles company in the underworld, he spends much time with her, in and beneath the sea, being trained, cajoled and warned. Prophesies cannot be sidestepped by mortals – or can they? Patroclus tries his best to avert the edict. His bravery in the end is astounding and effective.
Madeline Miller is a kind of Hilary Mantel ‘lite’. Another Mary Renault. She puts the reader right there, in the palace, in the crystal cave with Chiron, dancing in the court of Skyros, camping outside the walls of Troy. In fact this book could be young adult so coy are the sweet descriptions of the growing, unshakeable love between two boys. How young they were.
The relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was heart warming, if over emphasised, beginning with the Greek ‘boarding school for warriors’ at Achilles’ father’s place. The accident which sent Patroclus there was so easy to imagine, and so terrible in consequence for his family life. The sweet feelings he later discovered towards Briseis, the instinct that sought her survival, the healing work done by her with Patroclus in the medical tent, using the knowledge that Chiron gave him in the mountains, are all beautiful stories.
Altogether it was a pleasure to be reminded of the old myths, an exciting read in places and rewarding in others. I especially loved Chiron. What a marvellous tale this is, despite the writer ignoring popular belief in the most famous Trojan and Achilles legend - I was waiting for the Trojan horse, which never arrived, although was foretold, and I was disappointed that Achilles was shot by a spear between his shoulder blades, not through his only weak point, his heel. Shame!
on 23 October 2014
This is a book liable to inflame the pedantically-minded, leaving one either laughing,or wondering who the blazes actually edited it. There are words used incorrectly, and facts which are, er, not facts. Examples:
‘Submersion’ where she meant ‘immersion’. Apparently Greek ships were not designed for ‘day after day of submersion’. Well, uh, no. Submerged they were useless, being sunk. Immersed, their planks swelled so they didn’t leak, so immersion was probably just the thing.
A king had ‘borne fifty sons’. A king. The bearing of children is usually, for sound biological reasons, delegated to women. Because they have wombs.
Did you know that squirrels hibernate? I didn’t. I thought the little squirrelly footprints in the woods all winter were a bit of a clue. I did check, and apparently they don’t even hibernate in proper snow.
Did you know that they hibernate in burrows? Burrows! Okay, ground squirrels have burrows, but they don’t live in forests, and she was talking about forests, so I think she meant the tree rat variety.
In ‘The Song of Achilles’, one churns milk to make yoghurt and cheese. In the real world, one adds cultures to them.
I also gather from MM that the Med has powerful tides which will drag ships inshore even with the rowers going full pelt the other way. Really? The Med? Known for its small tidal range?
Added to this, the writing in tends towards the simple – that is, it is often as flat as a fen. It is also, on occasion, downright patronising (‘In our countries, we did X.’ You know, since the character is describing his country at the time, I can probably work this out.) The characterisation shares the fenny-flatness too: Achilles camps and screams around the place when (a desperately wet) Patroclus eventually gets himself killed; Agamemnon is a typecast baddie straight from the packet. Now and then there is a half-decent simile, but these have to be set against the bad ones: someone’s anger is described as being ‘as hot as blood’. Wow, it’s scary, is lukewarm rage.
Next time I fancy a fix of Ancient Greece, I’m back to Mary Renault, to her intense, beautiful, stirring, descriptive books.
Perhaps I'm a pedantic classicist but I have to admit that while I found this book readable, I didn't really like what it does to the Achilles/Patroclus story. It takes a relationship already established from Homer as one of male friendship/warrior-bond (some sources also make them cousins)and transforms it into an uncomfortably hyper-romanticised, Romeo-and-Juliet love relationship.
I was completely unconvinced by this Patroclus who is turned into an abject, feminised figure who is constantly staring at Achilles in wonder, feeling breathless and swallowing in rather Mills and Boon/bodice-ripper fashion, and retreats from fighting at Troy.
Achilles himself is similarly changed: he's placid and calm, barely roused to emotion through most of the text, until he explodes into his famous `wrath' from nowhere in Troy.
Plenty of other reviewers have loved this. I love Homer, I love Greek myth and literature, I love Mary Renault, I love her Fire From Heaven which depicts a love between Alexander and Hephaistion which feels textured, real and authentic - but I didn't really like this.
ps. If you haven't read Homer's Iliad and are interested, I'd recommend highly the Richmond Lattimore translation (The Iliad).
on 2 May 2015
I would like to say in all seriousness: This is now my favourite book.
I've been trying to figure out what to say in this review for a few days now, and I just can't? This book destroyed me.
This book was meant for me.
I remember the first time I ever saw this book was in an airport. It can't have been very long after it was published because this was only about 3-4 years ago, and I was on my way to visit my Father in the UK. I hadn't even read the blurb, but I had decided I wanted this book. I knew I was going to love it. I wanted to buy it! But, as my Mother pointed out, I already had enough books to read whilst I was away - I could get the book when we got back.
I didn't get the book when I got back. I ended up getting it on Kindle years later, and then put off reading it for months.
Why? I don't know. I love all things Ancient History - more than anything, the Ancient Greeks. This is exactly my kind of thing. I remember having this same love affair with Mary Renault's The Alexander Trilogy. So I honestly don't know why I waited until now to read this book.
Do I regret that I waited this long? Absolutely not. It might only be a matter of 3-4 years, but I would never have appreciated this book then, the way I do now.
The Song of Achilles is the story of the illustrious Achilles Peleides, Aristos Achaion. More than that, it's the story of what made him human in spite of being half-god. The book is told from the narrative of Patroclus Menotiades, an exiled prince, who comes to the court of King Peleus, and there meets the second half of his soul.
Miller has obviously followed Plato's interpretation of their relationship here. Contrary to major movies starring Brad Pitt, Achilles and Patroclus were not cousins. They were not remotely related. There is no definitive answer to the question of 'were they lovers?' but I like to think they were. There's enough evidence out there for me, and certainly Homer doesn't make it explicit, but you cannot deny the way, aside from it's depth, the way in which Achilles grieves - refusing to burn Patroclus' body, keeping it in his tent and weeping over it - provides pretty compelling evidence.
What I really love about this book? The fact that it's told from Patroclus' narrative. This was a genius stroke by Miller. It certainly wouldn't have been anywhere near as good if it had been told from an impersonal third person, or even from Achilles point of view. How could you possibly relate to someone who was half-god? But to the poor mortal who loved him? That you can relate to. Almost everyone will have had that experience of thinking someone divine through the force of your feelings for them. The only difference here, is Achilles really is of the divine.
Patroclus is the relateable outcast. He's not a loser by any means, but he's just not a warrior in a culture where the true measure of a man is in his ability to be one, surrounded as they are by stories of heroes and gods. So far in that the divinities are real characters in this book: Thetis, Achilles' mother; Chiron, Centaur and teacher; and cameos by Apollo and minor Gods. The addition of these characters adds a sense of magic, whilst maintaining a sense of realism. You feel that it is quite feasible that they existed once, and that they did play a part in this story.
The Story of Achilles is one that is recognised the world over, and the name of Achilles is synonymous with the name Troy. But that's not what this book is about. This book is a love story. It's the story of two best friends growing up, learning to love each other, discovering their world together and their willingness to sacrifice for the sake of their love.The depth of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is what really sets this book apart from all the other re-tellings of the Illiad.
If you only read one book this year, make it this one.