The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles was just shortlisted for the Orange Prize and I couldn’t be more excited.This retelling of the story of Achilles and the Trojan War is one of the most gorgeously written books I’ve read in a while and made me completely engrossed in learning more about Greek mythology and the ancient world.

I’m not totally ignorant of Greek mythology, but I willingly forgot all of the little details that are so battered into our minds in school. I’ve never read The Iliad and only remembered the basics of the Trojan War (you know, ‘the face that launched a thousand ships’) so this story not only entertained me on its own but had me researching the various players involved and the gods and goddesses who decided their fates.

Miller tells the story of Achilles from the viewpoint of Patroclus, who in her version is not only Achilles’ friend but his lover. They are raised together from the time they are young boys and when Achilles goes to Mount Pelion to undergo his specialized training with Chiron, the Centaur, Patroclus goes with him. They live in harmony and bliss while discovering each other and learning the skills Achilles will need to fulfill the prophecy that he will be the greatest Greek warrior of his generation. After several years of living so uneventfully, a messenger comes with the news that Greece will send ships to invade Troy. Their peace is shattered.

Achilles is portrayed as achingly beautiful, artistic, physically gifted, with a definite sense of superiority yet a reluctance to fulfill his destiny. Patroclus is kind, giving, quiet, reserved and devoted to Achilles. Their bond is firm and unwavering so it is no surprise that the story turns on their parting.

I love this book in a major way. Miller has a talent for making the ancient stories entirely believable and I felt immersed every time I opened the pages. Her writing has that dreamy, lyrical quality that lulls your senses and makes you float along on the cloud of her narrative. Even the battle chapters are elevated to an otherworldly level and they are not too gritty, though she doesn’t leave out the horrible details. She just has a beautiful writing style that is truly transporting. The reader benefits from seeing the events through Patroclus’s eyes as he is an observant and calm narrator who gives us an insider’s view of the chief characters and their decisions.

I really hope Ms. Miller continues to write novels based on Greek mythology. Her interpretation of them is intriguing and will, I think, inspire a new passion for learning more about the ancient world. I have been inspired to attempt The Iliad sometime soon and am very much looking forward to it. Have you read The Iliad? What is the best translation?

The Orange Prize will be awarded on May 30 and I would not be surprised if The Song of Achilles wins.

13 thoughts on “The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

  1. I’m just not up to date with recently published books but you make this one sound like a book which is definitely a ‘must read’. Another one to request , thanks , I think!


    1. I really do think it is a must read! I don’t read a ton of contemporary novels, but I like to read a few so that I can keep up on trends at the library. This is one that I am going to suggest to a lot of people at work. Sorry for adding to your requests, Katrina! (but not really 🙂


  2. I’ve just added myself to the library queue – they only have four copies, but maybe the nomination will spark more interest & then more copies! I love Greek mythology (and I prefer the Greek gods to the Roman versions).


    1. I think I prefer the Greek versions, also. This has definitely become popular at my library – in fact, I read it quickly because there were so many holds on it that I wasn’t able to renew it. I do hope more people discover it so you can get a copy soon!


  3. I don’t know much about Greek mythology and have never been very interested in it, but I’ve heard so many good things about this book that I really want to read it. I’m hoping it might leave me feeling more passionate about the ancient world too!


    1. It really has inspired a passion in me! I’ve checked out a few Greek plays and am still searching for a copy of the Iliad. I also watched a National Geographic program on the real city of Troy and am a bit obsessed now with learning all I can about it .


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