Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I can’t remember where I first heard about this book, but being a huge fan of Greek mythology it immediately piqued my interest and was added to my virtual ‘to-read’ pile. I received a copy for my birthday last year (thanks Izzie!) and couldn’t put it down once I’d started; it was probably my favourite book of 2018.

This beautifully written book tells the story of the Trojan War from a refreshingly new perspective. It follows Achilles and Patroclus, two unlikely friends whose paths should never have crossed, from childhood as they grow into manhood and become skilled in the arts and medicine. As they grow, Miller skilfullly develops their bond from childhood playmates into something deeper and more meaningful, while the displeasure of Achilles’s mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess, constantly looms in the background. When word comes that Helen of Troy has been kidnapped Achilles and Patroclus travel to Troy, unaware that the following years will test them individually and call everything they hold dear into question.

Achilles has been portrayed by many as an unsympathetic character – a bully, a brat, an arrogant jerk who knows he is the star player on the team. Miller shows these qualities but also reminds us that he is human. Through Patroclus’ eyes we see that Achilles is deeply conflicted. He, too, is capable of love, has a gentle side and a sense of humour. Ultimately, he is a senstive young man struggling to balance his personal feelings with the expectations of his entire country.

What I enjoyed most about The Song of Achilles is Miller’s incredibly fresh and imaginative retelling of a story that has already been adapted and retold so many times before. It is difficult to breathe fresh life into such material but Miller manages it in style. Rather than being a story about the Trojan War, it is a story about two humans and the incredible bond between them who inextricably get caught up in the ramifications of war. The Song of Achilles is both a devestating love story (yes, I cried) and an almighty battle between gods and kings.

If you are interested in Greek mythology I think you will definitely enjoy this fresh take on the Trojan War (is it also delightfully lacking in Paris, who has always annoyed me).

If not, the human aspect may still appeal to you, as at its heart The Song of Achilles is a story about the bonds of love more than a rehash of a war epic.

I give it 5/5.

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