Book Review: "The Song of Achilles" by Madeline Miller

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

“There is no law that gods must be fair, Achilles,” Chiron said. “And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone. Do you think?” 

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One of my little book projects is to introduce myself to more LGBT books. For some reason, it’s difficult to find these books in a public library. Sometimes they’re considered “smut,” or even banned. It took me a long time to track down books like Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters, which is considered a LGBT classic.  

Song of Achilles, released last year, tells the story of Achilles and his “companion,” Patrocles. What makes this novel even better – to me, the history nerd, at least – is that it’s based on Homer’s The Iliad. Miller takes every opportunity to create an accurate picture of what it may have been like in Homer’s world, one where centaurs, cruel water nymphs and harpies play a role in humans’ lives, where the gods frequently interfere and take sides.

While the New York Times calls Song of Achilles ”fast food,” I absolutely have to disagree. As a fan of Greek myth, and one who has read both epic poems (The Odyssey and the Iliad) pretty closely, I believe that Miller is truly passionate about her characters and that there is a deeper message on hand.

When Achilles and Patrocles fall in love, their missteps and avowals seem believable. I never for one moment doubt their path to love and passion. The love scenes may be overwrought and breathy, but hey – falling in love when you are a teenager is absolutely both of those adjectives. Transforming an ancient epic into a modern tale with hormones isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it makes it accessible to young adults and adults alike struggling to understand their own hormones. Best of all, it is a reminder that the quest for self-understanding is not just a modern struggle – it’s an ancient one.

Highly recommend. In fact, it’s a novel I keep coming back to.