Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller)

The Song of Achilles was the first book I read this summer, and it was absolutely beautiful. It became kind of a disappointment because I knew that everything I would read after this wouldn't be as good. I should have saved it for the end, and finished summer with a bang. Don't misunderstand me. The book was anything but a disappointment.

This is the story of Patroclus, a Greek myth figure you may not know very well. He is Achilles' best friend (and in some versions, including this one, his lover). Achilles, Aristos Achaion, the best of the Greeks, the mighty warrior of the Trojan War. The Song of Achilles is a retelling (I think "retelling" is an appropriate word choice, but I'm not sure what else to use if it isn't) of The Iliad from the point of view of Patroclus, a disgraced prince who moves to Achilles' kingdom. Our story sends us from this point until the end of the Trojan War, when the novel ends.


Everything in between is a beautiful love story. Miller does an extraordinary job writing: her sentences are gorgeous living beings that enchanted me from the moment I started. Watching the romance between Patroclus and Achilles begin and grow is breathtaking; their tale is insanely gratifying and at times heartbreaking as Patroclus has to face the hardships of a war hero fated to die (I would say "spoilers" but anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Greek mythology knows Achilles dies--though I did learn from reading this that the myth of Achilles' heel was retroactively added to the story hundreds of years after Homer).

When I was young, I used to be very, very interested in Greek mythology. However, my attention was focused mostly on gods and goddesses, and I never paid much attention to stories with more humans than gods. Therefore, I wasn't very familiar with The Iliad or the Trojan War, but I didn't need to be. And I'm so grateful to Madeline Miller for sparking my interest in classical myth again. As a great book should, it has piqued my interest and makes me hungry for more.

The true mark that The Song of Achilles is a good book? I cried at the end. I have no shame in saying it. Like several other of my favorite books (The Time Traveler's Wife, my favorite love story, made me weep hard), I cried while reading this book. The ending is such a rush of emotions (sadness, anger, love, betrayal, forgiveness) that I couldn't help it. I was just overwhelmed. It doesn't help that the last lines (i.e., if you plan on reading this book, skip to the next paragraph because these are the final lines of the book) are so, so beautiful: "In the darkness, two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dark. Their hands meet, and light spills in a flood like a hundred golden urns pouring out of the sun." It breaks my heart just thinking about it. LOVE IS BEAUTIFUL.

If you love Greek mythology, read this book. If you're indifferent or don't like Greek mythology, read this book. Please just read this book. It has been the highlight of my year, and I can't praise or recommend this book enough. If you like love, you will enjoy this book.

My rating: 5/5, wholeheartedly and with no reservations
The Song of Achilles on Goodreads
See what I've been reading lately!

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