Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A beautifully written retelling with a seamless blending of myth and historical detail.  Modern literature at its best. 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their differences, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’s mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

Favourite Quote

This book is beautifully lyrical in it’s storytelling so picking one quote alone was extraordinarily difficult…I managed to narrow it down to two…

I could recognise him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet strike the earth.  I would know him in death, at the end of the world.

(The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, pg 126)

*

Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of mortal inventions. ‘No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from.’

(The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, pg 283)

Review

Where to begin? Let me start with this: I loved this book.  It is beautifully written, woven with emotion and poignancy.  In The Song of Achilles, we are taken on a journey to a time when gods and goddess and heroes still walked the earth, where a seamless blending of myth and history conjure a narrative so captivating and compelling that the book is impossible to put down.

The story can be divided into two: before the Trojan war and during it.  What struck me, was how in keeping with Homer’s Illiad this retelling was, and I appreciated that.

Having a life-long interest in Ancient Greece and Greek mythology, I am well acquainted with the story of The Trojan War.  And, my sympathies have always fallen on the side of the Trojans.  So, as I picked up this book, I did wonder if I would connect to a story that centred on Achilles.  My opinion of him – until I read this book – could probably be summed up in two words: “arrogant” and “blood-thirsty”.  I did not like him.  Of course, he is those things, but he is so much more complicated a character than that, one that evolves and transforms over time as the path of his destiny becomes clear.  Madeline Miller cleverly portrays this.  

All the characters were well-drawn: the cunning Odysseus; the proud, single-minded Agamemnon; the fearless Diomedes, the old, frail King Peleus.  The depiction of Thetis was terrifying; she was as cold and as dangerous as the sea that was her home.

The story can only be described as powerfully emotional and in places, it is devastating; it reduced me to tears on more than one occasion. Patroclus was the perfect narrator for Achilles’ story.  He brought balance, understanding and mortality to the tale of a half-divine killing machine.  Whereas Achilles is the perfect prince and Aristos Achaion, Best of the Greeks, Patroclus is imperfect, awkward and useless at fighting at a time when it is valued so highly.

As for the setting, the culture and landscape are brought vividly to life.  There is such a richness to the lyrical prose, it is easy to imagine the locations we visit: the palace at Phthia, Mount Pelion, Scyros, Aulis, the beach at Troy…but more than that, you can imagine being there.

Does this book transform my opinion of Achilles from villain to hero?  No, though he is perhaps less of a villain than I would have once stated.  But Patroclus…he is most certainly the hero of this retelling.

The Song of Achilles is modern literature at its best.  Highly recommended.  If you’ve yet to venture into Ancient Greek mythology or mythological retellings, this would be a good place to start.

Rating


Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019 – I’ve chosen this book for challenge #9 in the list: A book you’ve not read but one you really should have by now

17 thoughts on “Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

  1. I loved this book! I think that I actually preferred it to Circe, although I appreciated both novels for quite different reasons. That said, any fiction that engages with classical myth from a new angle is pretty much always going to make for fascinating reading – mostly because the characters are so engaging! I’m really glad that you enjoyed it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very true, and when those myths have been around for so long, it is hard to come up with something that provides not only the story everyone knows but in a fresh and original way, whilst keeping it engaging. I’m looking forward to reading Circe and comparing the two 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hmm, 6 books bought in less than 6 weeks? Sounds like me last year, lol… I’m doing a little better so far this year: 2 books bought and 5 books read. I don’t have a “to buy” list but that sounds like a good idea, given that my wish list for fiction alone has over 300 books on it right now. I’ve started to rate some of them as “highest priority” on Amazon, but I fear that I’ll end up with 100 “highest priority” books and be back where I started.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, it does, rather. Lol. Though my excuse for the moment is that my birthday has just passed, and being at the end of January, I find I get a good number of books in the weeks running up to and after it. I’ve noticed over the past couple of years, that I do seem to be able to rein in my book buying during the middle of the year, so I’m hoping that’s going to happen again 🙂

        2 books bought and 5 books read – Yay! 🙂

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  2. Pingback: Bookish Reflections – January 2019 | Sammi Loves Books

  3. I doubted I really needed your review to tempt me to buy the book; for obvious reasons this is bound to appeal to me. But I do thank you for bringing it to my attention. Payday tomorrow, and first thing in the morning I’m buying. Though it will be tempting to read before I’ve finished the current book.
    And I love the quotes you’ve chosen. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I found this by chance in a charity book shop at the end of last year. And, I wasn’t going to pick it up and instead wait until I read Circe to see if I liked the writer’s style. I’m not entirely sure what changed my mind, but I’m pleased I did.

      Not at all surprised to hear this appeals to you. 🙂

      I’m glad you like the quotes – there were so many to choose from!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Fictionwise? Philip K Dicks *Valis*. I was enticed; I used to read a lot of his, and when I saw in this one he explores Gnosticism. I thought, yea, that’ll do me fine. But … I might have enjoyed it more in the ’70’s when it was written. My head was more aligned to it then. Worse is that I tend to reserve fiction for bedtime reading, and of late I’ve been dropping off rather quickly; so the reading time is down. I don’t want to read it earlier in the evening since that’s my usual time for non-fiction. And that one’s not going too well either. Too much time, too many words, to explain too deeply where it’s not needed. Gosh, put that succinctly (for me). 🙂
        Anyway, I bought both *Song of Achilles* and *Circe* last night. Mr Dicks might get the kick before I’ve finished him. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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