Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller

Song of AchillesRecently, a video of a guy having a really bad day on Wheel of Fortune has been making the rounds on my Facebook, and it is ruining my ability to think about this book without mispronouncing its title. Thanks, internet. You’re the best.

But before I saw that video, everything was hunky-dory over here, because this book was pretty awesome. Thanks, book club, you are actually the best!

At first, it was a bit of tough going. As one book clubber posted to our group, “Hope you are all comfortable with homoeroticism because oooooh buddy.”

Oooooh buddy, indeed. Miller has taken Homer’s The Iliad and retold it from the point of view of Patroclus, Achilles’s bffaeae and possible lover, only Miller has thrown “possible” straight out the window. Patroclus is as moony as a dystopian YA protagonist over Achilles, and it is their friendship and moreship that dictates the events that happen in this retelling.

I have to admit up front (or five paragraphs in, whatever) that my knowledge of The Iliad is limited to… pretty much this book. I had a brief fling with Greek mythology when I was, like, ten or something, so I know who Achilles is, and Helen, and Odysseus, but Patroclus? Chiron? Agamemnon? Nooooope.

But that didn’t hurt my reading of the book. In fact, it probably made it better, because when Important Things happened I was generally not expecting them. The only place it got a little weird was during the big fight at the end, where some dude disappears into thin air and that’s supposed to be, like, a thing in The Iliad, I guess?

Okay, story itself, for those of you who like me are like, oh, I know Achilles, he’s the one with the heel! (Spoiler: this is apparently not canon.) So our narrator, Patroclus, has a lame childhood with his lame dad and then he (Patroclus) accidentally kills another kid and is exiled from his dad’s lands and has to go live with Achilles’s dad instead. Everybody there thinks Patroclus is totally weird, including Achilles, but Achilles takes pity on Patroclus and makes him his companion. Patroclus thinks this is awesome, because he totally has the hots for Achilles, and then it turns out that Achilles totally reciprocates, and oooooh buddy.

Meanwhile, the Trojan War happens, and although Achilles and his nymph mother (who is no fan of Patroclus) try to avoid the thing, it’s the Trojan War and there’s really no getting out of it. There’s fighting and politics and posturing and snuggles and eventually all the prophecies come to pass and people are dead and other people are scary sadistic and unfortunately alive. This clearly falls on the “tragedy” end of the Greek theatre spectrum.

It’s all really fascinating and so much easier to read than pretty much any translation of an original Greek text I’ve ever seen, and Miller even includes helpful notes at the end to explain who everyone is and how the book compares to The Iliad. I definitely want to go find a nice easy translation of the original story and see just how many subtle things I missed for not knowing to be looking for them. Any suggestions?

Recommendation: For those who were ever interested in Greek mythology, and those who can handle some oooooh buddy.

Rating: 8/10

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