Friday, April 17, 2020

The Song of Achilles Made Me Cry


In 2019, I read and loved Madeline Miller's newer release, Circe. It was one of my favorite books that year and frankly, of all time. I am a huge classics nerd. It started off with reading the Percy Jackson series as a child and had developed into a fascination with all things ancient. My minor in university is classical studies. So I was obviously stoked to pick up The Song of Achilles, which is Madeline Miller's debut novel. I expected to love it, of course, but I didn't expect it to make me emotionally unstable. 

In February, I spent a week in Athens, Greece. I won't waste time by gushing about how amazing that trip was, but I'll just say that it fulfilled and surpassed all my expectations. Anyways, I thought The Song of Achilles would be the perfect book to read while visiting Greece because...duh. Not only was it perfect, this book had me in tears and trying not to bawl like a baby on an airplane. Listen, I am not a crier. I have only shed a tear for one movie and a handful of books. But this book nearly brought me to my knees. In a good way. 

the story

Madeline Miller is a beautiful writer. She weaves classic mythology with an innovative, original tale seamlessly. The plot follows a familiar story--that of the Trojan war and The Iliad. But Madeline Miller manages to make the classic story unique and touching. She pulls the perspective in to focus on the lives of Achilles and Patroclus, how they grew up together and fell in love before the war interrupted their fate. Her prose is lyrical yet not ostentatious. It will wrap you in a gentle air of magic and emotion. You will soon become lost in a world of love, betrayal, honor, and loyalty.  

If you are familiar with mythology, you will know the general trajectory of this plot and the lives of the characters. However, this expectation does not ruin the intensity of each plot twist. In fact, it only makes you cherish each scene more. The story may be ages-old, but it is not boring. For a book about Greek mythology, gods, and monsters, it feels so very human and will touch your heart in a way I cannot explain. This is the kind of story that will stay with you for years to come, nestled in your heart. 



the characters

Since the book is titles The Song of Achilles, I expected Achilles to be the narrator. I soon found out that I was wrong and that it was Patroclus, Achilles' friend and lover, that would be the protagonist. This is one of the reasons I have come to love Madeline Miller's novels: she chooses forgotten and neglected, yet integral, characters to drive her stories. Patroclus is undeniably a vital part of the classic mythology, yet he is cast aside as a background character. But Madeline Miller brings him to life and he becomes the heart of this war story, changing it from a violent, desperate tale of honor and blood to one of love and memory. Patroclus is kind, bound not by traditional concepts but by the affection he feels towards those who deserve it. He is not the flashy, boisterous hero, but he is brave in a quiet way. 

Achilles is shining and heroic, the best of the Greeks. Yet Madeline Miller grants him a softness he is not allowed in The Iliad. Yes, he is conflicted and proud, but he is also gentle and humorous. The love he shares with Patroclus is tender and sweet. Their relationship had even my romance-hating heart melting. But my favorite characters outside of the pair were Chiron (of course) and Briseis, who is clever and strong-hearted. 

the ending

I won't spoil anything for those who remain unaware of mythology, but the ending is both epic and tragic. Like I mentioned before, I was trying desperately not to cry like a baby in front of a plane filled with people. The ending broke my heart in the best possible way. I may even love this book more than Circe because it touched me so much. I have been unable to stop thinking about this book since I finished it. I can find no fault with it. Even if you do not enjoy Greek mythology, I would still recommend this book for the strength of its writing and characterization. Amazing. Absolutely amazing. 





Publication Date: March 6, 2012
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 389
Genre: Fiction
Synopsis: The legend begins...

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia to be raised in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. “The best of all the Greeks”—strong, beautiful, and the child of a goddess—Achilles is everything the shamed Patroclus is not. Yet despite their differences, the boys become steadfast companions. Their bond deepens as they grow into young men and become skilled in the arts of war and medicine—much to the displeasure and the fury of Achilles’ mother, Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece, bound by blood and oath, must lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.



Have you read The Song of Achilles? What did you think?


11 comments:

  1. Reading The Song of Achilles whole also going to Greece is such a dream. Very fitting haha! I can understand why you got emotional.

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    1. It was mindblowing and I cannot even believe I got to do it. Seeing the places where all this mythology occurred while reading a book inspired by it was beyond cool.

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  2. Great review, Erin! I absolutely love this book and it made me cry, it's amazing because as you said, this is a very well known story. And yet despite that, the way the story is told and the narrator she pick made the story even more precious and the emotions more intense.

    Tasya // The Literary Huntress

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    1. Thank you! Gosh, what an emotional rollercoaster of a book. I think it made the emotional suspense even better by knowing the well-known story of how Patroclus and Achilles both die. You fall in love with these characters all the while knowing their tragic fates.

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  3. I LOVE The Song of Achilles too! I loved how it was told in Patroclus' point of view because, like you said, he is often forgotten and he offers and interesting narrative. I think it was a smart choice because I don't know if I would have enjoyed the story as much if it was told in Achilles' point of view. Great review!

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    1. I think he was the perfect character to tell this story. I wonder what Madeline Miller will write about next and who she will pick as her protagonist. She is so great at picking side characters with new perspectives. I agree that if the book was from Achilles' POV that it wouldn't have been as unique or impactful.

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  4. This definitely sounds like a book that I would have loved as a ninth grader fascinated with Greek mythology! Would you say it's a bit like the Percy Jackson series?

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    1. It is very different in the sense that it is more mature since it is an adult book and it is also set in Ancient Greece following the classic mythology rather than doing a modern-set inspiration of it, like PJ. But I think anyone who liked PJ as a kid will likely love this one. Give it a shot!

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  5. I've been seeing this book everywhere, but I haven't read it yet. Reading your review makes me wanna read it now :) I absolutely loved Percy Jackson growing up and similarly, it was what first got me to Greek mythology. Thank you for this review! I'll add this to my to-read list.

    jillian @ jillian etc.

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    1. Obviously, I 100% recommend it. It will definitely be one of my favorite books from the year, as well of all time. I hope you do read this and love it as much as I did.

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