Miller, M. (2012). The Song of Achilles. New York: Harper Audio. ISBN: 9780062126122 (US paperback edition)
Annotation: After being exiled by his father, Patroclus grows up with the half divine Achilles. Eventually, their friendship blossoms into love, and they become central figures in the Trojan War and the epic Illiad.
Reaction: My Bachelor’s Degree is in Religious Studies and Classics (as in, Classical Civilizations). I love stories about those ancient civilizations or their art or literature. I like the familiarity of these stories, and I love the heartbreaking bittersweet tragedy that so many of them have. I LOVE the Iliad; it was one of my favorite things that I read in college, and a huge part of my love was due to the larger than life figure of Achilles. I loved reading the story of his rage and pride and heartbreak. I loved that a figure such as Achilles could be so undone by the death of his “beloved companion.” I even loved the movie Troy, unashamedly and unironicaly.
In school, my instructor waved off the homoeroticiscm as a part of the culture that cannot even really be compared to our cultural norms. So it never even occurred to me to think of Patroclus and Achilles as a love story, but I am so glad Madeline Miller did. She has told a really beautiful, heartbreaking love story involving two men, one of whom was Aristos Achion: Best of the Greeks. And one of the things that I love most about the romance is how it’s Not A Big Deal, for the most part. There’s a few mentions about how men did not have male lovers, though they it was a common practice for boys, and how the pair tried to keep their relationship on the downlow when camped at Troy (though they shared a tent and spent all their time together; I feel confident that ALL THE GREEKS KNEW), and obviously Achilles’s goddess mother hated Patroclus for being inferior to her golden son, but mostly? They are two people in love with each other and NO ONE CARES. It’s great.
She has lovingly retold the myths and stories surrounding Achilles and Patroclus, and the amount of effort and research and dedication she demonstrates in her telling awes me. It’s been awhile since I’ve read the Iliad or any other literature about Achilles, but from what I remember, Miller’s version is very faithful to the original.
This story is told from the first person perspective of Patroclus, and I spent the entire book wondering how she would handle the telling of the aftermath of his death, of Achilles’s grief and rage. I was sort of expecting that she would handle it the way that she did, and I did not mind it. Seeing those events unfold through Patroclus’s eyes was all the more poignant and heartbreaking. (I also spent the entire book hearing Brad Pitt scream, “HEEEEEEECTOOOOOOOOOR!” over and over and feeling my little heart break a little.)
I would give this book to anyone who loves mythology, epic battles or starcrossed (and gay!) lovers. This book is ABSOLUTELY, 100% in my Top Ten Favorites. I know it’s early in the year still, but I think this is going to be one of my favorite books read in 2013. So beautiful and wonderful and epic and heroic and lovely and everyone should read it!
(Note: I listened to the audiobook, narrated by a man with a delightful, soothing voice that perfectly suited the tone of the story.)
2012 Orange Prize for Fiction
Here’s a great video of the author talking about this book: