The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
No, this isn’t a musical version of the Iliad! The song in the title is more a reference to Homer’s epic poetry, wherein most readers first encounter Achilles. Music does, however, play a part in this novel. Readers of the Iliad, familiar with the wrath of Achilles and his super-human combat skills, may be surprised at his more artistic side depicted here, with musical skills among his many attributes. They will also find a more romantic hero and gain a fuller understanding of the major love of Achilles’ life, Patroclus. While the romantic nature of their relationship has been debated pro and con since classical times (Plato and Xenophon, respectively), it is placed unambiguously at the heart of this novel.
What makes this novel so believable and compelling (in addition to the elegantly modern prose in lieu of the Iliad’s Dactylic hexameters) is the author’s choice of narrator. Rather than an omniscient bard, it is Achilles’ most intimate companion, Patroclus, who tells the tale. Exiled to the court of Achilles’ father for a youthful act of manslaughter, Patroclus winds up the unlikely best friend of Achilles. Perhaps an example of the attraction of opposites, the relationship between the insecure, nonathletic Patroclus and the godlike Achilles is made completely believable, not to mention deeply moving. The author’s grounding in classical literature informs each of the classical characters and settings, even a woodland interval involving a wise centaur. The slow, yet inexorable, attraction between the two lead characters is played out among many other strange creatures as well, from semi-savage royals to even more harrowing, interfering deities. One of these, Achilles’ mother, a sea goddess named Thetis, is, in equal parts, terrifying and fascinating – truly a mother-in-law to rival Jane Fonda’s performance in Monster-in-Law! Mary Renault fans are obvious easy-sells for this novel, but fans of romantic fiction of any historical period should be equally entranced.
Submitted by Selecto