Thursday, 27 June 2019

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

352 pages
Reading Group Read


Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper - despite the displeasure of Achilles' mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.

My Review

Decades ago, when I was still in primary school so definitely no older than 12, I wrote a paper about the Trojan War, using a book about Greek Myths and Legends as my source. I don’t have the book anymore, but I remember it well because it was the first time I read one of my mother’s books…an adult book.

More than 40 years have passed since I wrote that paper and to say my memories of the stories I read back then is limited would be a gross understatement. In fact, what while I perfectly remember loving those stories, most of the details in them have long since evaporated from my memory.

Having said that, I did remember enough about Achilles to know that he was an almost immortal half-god who still managed to get himself killed during the Trojan war. I can’t say I remembered anything about his companion, Patroclus though; not before I read A Song of Achilles, not while I was mesmerized by that story, and not now that I’ve finished the book. And, since I don’t have access to my Mother’s book anymore (and can’t for the life of me remember what it was called) I can’t check if I don’t remember him because he just wasn’t there or because my memory is faulty. 😊

But yes, it’s fair to say that I picked this book for my Reading Group because of my love of the Greek myths. And it is more than fair to say that after reading Song of Achilles that love has turned a bit stronger than it always was. Having said that, what I loved about this book was the all too human love story between Achilles and Patroclus as they moved from an unlikely but unbreakable friendship to the sort of relationship dreams are made of.

Not that the book diminishes the mythical side of their story. The weird, wonderful, and cruel ways of the Gods play a huge role in this book. How could they not when one of our heroes is the son of a water nymph, when a cyclops tutors Achilles and Patroclus, and the various Greek Gods go out of their way to influence the outcome of the war.

But, despite the myths, the magic, the impossible feats of fighting, what stood out for me in this book was the love between Achilles and Patroclus. The half-god prince and the exiled nobody made such a beautiful pair. Patroclus’ love for Achilles was breath taking right from the start. Since the book is mostly told from Patroclus’ point of view it isn’t until the very end of the story that we discover to what extent Achilles returns that feeling.

For me this book had everything a good read requires: a thrilling story-line, a mesmerizing love story, tension, heartbreak, and redemption. Of course, I couldn’t call this story a romance; in order to ‘earn’ that label the two main characters need to have reached their happily ever after by the time the story ends.

Although…I guess it all depends on your definition of ‘happily’ because the ‘ever after’ is never in doubt.

All in all this was, for me, a wonderful book to celebrate our first centenary of book discussions.

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