The Song of Achilles was a book everyone seemed to rave about during 2012 and 2013. And my copy has a Donna Tartt blurb right across the top. Talk about hype. I was thrilled when my book club ladies selected it as our November read. And then I got all end-of-year slumpish, only read half in time for the discussion, and finished the rest a couple of weeks ago.
Madeline Miller’s novel is a retelling of The Iliad. To be straight with y’all, I’m not sure I’ve ever read The Iliad all the way through. I’m fairly certain I’ve read both The Odyssey and The Aeneid. But basically, the story follows Achilles through the eyes of his male companion, Patroclus, from their childhood together to adulthood and beyond.
Miller’s writing has a swift pace. For a story about a 10-year war, you never get bored which was an absolute blessing. I liked that she used Patroclus as the narrator instead of Achilles. Patroclus allows her to take more risks with historical fact since not much is known about the man beyond the parts he played in Achilles’s life and one pivotal moment in the Trojan War. One of our book club members is something of a Greek scholar and purist. She thought Miller did a superb job making the story interesting, modern, and still grounded in known fact.
I think everyone at least liked the book. Everyone seemed to have finished before the discussion occurred (except me, ha!). Personally, it’s a book that I really, really liked, but didn’t love. Mostly because I thought the love between Patroclus and Achilles was a bit too saccharine and sentimental which is a personal pet peeve. On the other hand, I think it’s nice to see a warrior and his male lover portrayed in such a sweet, endearing way. We don’t get that much, if ever. And Miller does an excellent job of tackling masculine and feminine stereotypes.
So, have you read The Iliad? Is it worth the time and effort to go back and re-familiarize myself with the ancient texts? Decisions, decisions.