The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller)

The Song of Achilles is the first novel by Madeline Miller. It’s a retelling of Homer‘s Iliad.
Finished on: 8.4.2022

Content Note: ableism, rape

Patroclus is nothing like his father King Menoetius hoped, and after he accidentally kills a boy, he is exiled to Phthia, to the court of King Peleus. Peleus’ son Achilles is the star there, admired by everyone. Patroclus, on the other hand, quickly finds himself an outsider there as well. But when he catches Achilles’ attention, it’s the beginning of a love that will last a lifetime, and longer.

The Song of Achilles is a beautifully written book that finally gives Achilles and Patroclus their queer due. I absolutely enjoyed reading it.

The book cover showing a bow and arrow arranged in the shape of a heart.

I have never read the Iliad and I’m no specialist when it comes to Greek myths, but a lot of what happens in The Song of Achilles feels familiar enough to convince me that Miller stuck pretty close to the source material. At the same time, she manages to give it an absolutely modern spin and feel. I am not exactly sure how she achieves that, because her language is lyrical in a way that is evocative of Homer (from what little I have read of him) and she also keeps the elements of the story that feel a little outlandish from today’s perspective (like the whole epsiode in Skyros).

Whether antique or modern, the story works in any case and it is easy to root for Patroclus and Achilles. The way Patroclus and Achilles wake up to their desire for and of each other is perfectly captured, as is Thetis’ chilling hatred of Patroclus, or the safety of Chiron’s sanctuary for the two boys. Plus, the book has the most fascinating take on Odysseus I ever encountered.

I have to admit that I enjoyed the part of the story before the Trojan war a little more than I did the Trojan war itself (apart from the descriptions of Patroclus mother that reflect the ableism of the time accurately, but that does nothing or not enough to frame it critically – those parts made me cringe). But that doesn’t mean that I was checked out emotionally when they got to Troy. In fact, I was completely into it and devoured the second part even more than the first where I was still finding my way with the book.

It’s a really fantastic, dramatic read and I am very much looking forward to sinking my teeth into Circe that is already lying ready on my nightstand.

Summarizing: excellent.

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