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04 August 2015 @ 04:42 pm
Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller  
It's been a long time since I've done a book review. Mainly because while I've been reading a lot of fiction, nothing I'd read had made much of an impression on me. But I finally got to this novel that had been sitting on my shelf for awhile and at its conclusion, I felt like it deserved a review.


The novel is told from the point of view of Patroclus from boyhood onward. He starts the novel as a prince who is a complete disappointment in his father's eyes and is later exiled to Phthia as a boy when he inadvertantly causes someone's death. It's there that he meets Achilles, the half god prince of Phthia who will soon grow to become the greatest of the Greek warriors. For anyone who knows the story of Achilles and Patroclus, you know that they eventually become close. Some book and film interpretations keep them as close friends, like brothers. While others interpreted them as lovers. Miller goes the latter route and traces the development of their relationship from their childhoods together through the Trojan War.

Before I started reading this book, I knew the fates of Achilles and Patroclus and how it would all come about. But it did really nothing to stem my sadness when everything started to go horrifically wrong. I probably internally wailed the most whenever Hector was brought up. Halfway into the book, Achilles hears the prophecy that he will die only after Hector and makes a casual promise to Patroclus that he won't kill Hector, thus putting off the prophecy. Despite Hector being the greatest of the Trojans, Achilles always waves off facing him in a duel saying naively, "What has Hector ever done to me?"

Yeah.

Miller does an excellent job of developing Patroclus as a three dimensional character from the rejected, introverted boy to the loyal, resilient man who comes to love Achilles above all else. She also does quite the impossible by making Achilles a rather sympathetic figure as much as he is a frustrating one. I never really liked Achilles when I read the Iliad and only the passing mentions of his closeness to Patroclus made him seem somewhat more tolerable. Miller doesn't shy away from Achilles' arrogance and pride nor his desire for fame and adoration. But she also takes time to show the position he's in as the son of a goddess who is caught between his mother who would have him reject all humans to become a legend and his own desire to live a happy life among them and Patroclus. He even says that he plans to be the first hero to have a happy life. I spent a lot of this book thinking, "OH NO HUBRIS."

I'd read a lot of reactions to this book with people writing in all caps about how they were in tears by the end. And while I didn't necessarily cry at the novel's conclusion, I did tear up. The closing sentences is one of the most evocative endings I've ever read. Not because it's flashy but because the imagery is so vivid and shows rather than tells the enormity of the bond between Achilles and Patroclus. It's been a few days since I finished the book and I still feel a little emotionally spent from reading it.


Overall, I recommend the book to fans of Greek mythology. And in true Greek myth fashion, it's not a lighthearted tale.
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