24 October 2011

Book (P)Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Gorgeous cover, no? And it's shiny and gold!
Wow.  Amazing. Stupendous.  Beautiful.  Heartbreaking.  

Okay, is that enough of a review for debut novel The Song of Achilles, by classics scholar Madeline Miller?  Because I feel that anything else I say about it won't do it justice.  It's astonishing.  The writing is marvelous. The characters, like Athena from her father's head, leap fully-formed from their pages.  

All right, I'll at least try to tell you what this book is all about.  In Miller's words, from the back of the advance reading copy I read: "I had always been especially moved by Achilles, and his desperate grief over the loss of his companion Patroclus. But who was Patroclus? I searched the ancient texts for every mention of his name and discovered an amazing man: exile and outcast, loyal and self-sacrificing, compassionate in a world where compassion was in short supply.  I had not thought The Iliad had a love story; I was wrong."

Song of Achilles, then, is the story of Achilles and Patroclus, narrated by the latter.  It's a love story and a war story, and these twin narratives weave in and around each other to the point that they're impossible to separate. This is like no book I've read before! I never would have thought that there was any book that could both keep me up all hours to finish it AND send me straight to the bookstore to purchase a copy of The Iliad to read back-to-back with it. This book is beautifully imagined and written. Clearly the Greek classics are NOT dead, not with Madeline Miller at the helm. Brava! 

On a completely random sidenote: the character of Odysseus is *exactly* like what Remus Lupin would have been like, had he been sorted into Slytherin.  So yes, Odysseus is the amalgamation of my favorite two DADA teachers!

I raved about this book to my husband, which piqued his interest.  Then I forced suggested that he read it on vacation last week.  He did and he was a bloody mess about it.  The story engaged him to the point that he was distant over dinner conversation.  And forget about talking to him in the wake of the conclusion--he was a weeping shell of a man* over breakfast that morning!  I trust I don't really give anything away when I remind readers that Greek stories are usually tragic or comic, and that this one ain't comic, and we know what happens in tragedies. 

Now I'm off to go read Homer and his many epithets.... 

*not that there's anything wrong with being a weeping shell of a man, or the fact that it was pretty much hard to differentiate that morning from any other day, given that weeping is actually a distinguishing feature of my gentle-souled DH. Hey--that's not a bad epithet, come to think of it!


  1. This sounds brilliant! Straight to the top of my to be purchased list :-)

  2. Wait...does it ruin it at all if you've seen Troy and therefore know the ending to Patroclus and Achilles' story?

  3. Only in the sense that if you've read The Little Mermaid it would ruin a performance of Rusalka for you. (Hey--I worked hard to get an opera metaphor in there for you. Be not snide about it.)

  4. Wow! I've never heard (read) you rave so. And it's perfect timing for me as I'll be teaching the Iliad and the Odyssey within a few weeks. How do I get my hands on this book?!!

  5. Okay, you got me here, and now I'm a new follower right back! :) Between your review of Lolita, which I confess I've never read but have always been disturbed by the idea of it, and your praise for my beloved Iliad, you convinced me that I had to follow this blog.


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