Sunday, February 8, 2015

look at her go: reviewin', reviewin': The Song of Achilles

Name: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
find it on goodreads
barnes and noble
full, non-spoilery review under the cut!

Synopsis: Achilles, "the best of all the Greeks," son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful— irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods' wrath.

They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.

 For those of you who are unfamiliar, Achilles and Patroclus were two extremely important characters in Homer's Illiad. Achilles was the best warrior in the Greek army, destined to die fighting Troy, and Patroclus was his beloved companion. During the course of the war, Achilles was offended by the high king and army commander, Agamemnon. He refused to fight for the Greek army, knowing they would fall without him. The Greeks lost and lost without Achilles, until finally, he agreed to let Patroclus go into the field in his armor, to inspire the army. This worked for a time, until Apollo knocks Patrolcus' armor off and he is slain by the Trojan hero Hector. Achilles reaction to his death is heartwrenching, as he single-handedly cuts through the Trojan army and kills Hector. Though the original text does not say that Achilles and Patroclus were lovers, many have chosen to interpret their relationship in that manner. After all, Achilles reaction to Patroclus' death does seem a bit extreme for them to have been anything but in love. (also, don't say this is spoilers because this story is literally THOUSANDS of years old. This is how the Illiad goes)

In The Song of Achilles, we are shown a different side to crazed-warrior Achilles and selfless Patroclus. The book is told from Patroclus' point of view, and I absolutely loved him as a narrator. He is slightly gawking and unsure of himself, even when he and Achilles have known each other for half their lives, but that makes him endearing. He has a soft heart, and this lends him the bravery to do what needs to be done.

The book starts off when Patroclus is a young boy, still living in his father's house as a prince. His father is indifferent to him, small and unprincely as he is. Then, he pushes and accidentally kills another boy, who was taunting him. Patroclus gets exiled, and is taken in at Achilles' father's court. The boys form a bond, and soon are inseparable. For the next 15+ years of their lives, the two boys (then men) are never apart for long. They go and train with the legendary centaur Chiron when they are 15 or so, and this is when the romantic relationship between them begins. Many other twists and turns befall them, with Achilles' goddess mother Thetis trying to drive a wedge between them, but they are strong in their feelings and eventually end up on the beaches near Troy, where the events of the Illiad take place.

Ok. How to describe my feelings for this book? It was one of the most emotional books I've read in a long time, and I think that is quite a feat, as Miller is writing about a time period so far removed from our modern lives. She could have written something that was utterly unreachable, but she didn't. Her work is moving, graceful and completely timeless, and it deals with things like friendship, first love, stable relationships, lgbtq struggles, the (sometimes ridiculous and unfair) expectations of parents, war, and so much more. I flew through this book in about 24 hours, but I really didn't want it to end.

I'd never really given much thought to Achilles and Patroclus' backstory, other than to decide that I liked the idea of them as lovers. I was much more interested in the other characters in the Illiad, Odysseus especially. I never really cared for Achilles, imagining him as a total meathead who only cared about fighting. But Miller chooses a different characterisation for him. She shows an Achilles who is disarmingly direct, kind, loves music and loves Patroclus with everything he has. She shows two boys who are only sixteen when they arrive on the beaches of Troy, with the weight of the entire army on their shoulders. She shows kindness and tenderness and bravery and love, things that I would never ascribe to Achilles. She characterizes him through the eyes of someone who adores him, which I believe makes all the difference.

I don't really know what else to say other than that this book made me cry, it made me squeal from adorableness, it made me cringe and wish the ending wasn't coming. I think this is a must-read for people who like Greek heroes and myths, people who are looking for lgbtq protagonists, and anyone who loves a gloriously rendered romantic tragedy.


-"There was silence then, and I did not care about the damp pallet or how sweaty I was. His eyes were unwavering, green flecked with gold. A surety rose in my, lodged in my throat. I will never leave him. It will be this, always, for as long as he will let me." p. 78
-"Later, we lay on the riverbank, learning the lines of each other's bodies anew. This, and this and this. We were like gods at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright, we could see nothing else but the other." p. 79
- "His eyes opened. 'Name one hero who was happy.' I considered. Heracles went mad and killed his family, Theseus lost his bride and father, Jason's children and new wife were murdered by his old, Bellerophon killed the Chimera but was crippled by the fall from Pegasus' back. 'You can't.' He was sitting up not, leaning forward. 'I can't.' 'I know. They never let you be famous and happy.' He lifted an eyebrow. 'I'll tell you a secret.' 'Tell me.' I loved it when it was like this. 'I'm going to be the first.' He took my palm and held it to his. 'Swear it.' 'Why me?' 'Because you're the reason. Swear it' 'I swear it,' I said, lost in the high color of his cheeks, the flame in his eyes. 'I swear it.' He echoed." p. 80
-"'Patroclus,' he said, a summons. I walked forward, and he placed his hand, large and warm as the sun, on my head. I breathed in the scents that was his alone, horse and sweat and herbs and forest. His voice was quiet. 'You do not give things up so easily as you once did,' he said." p.82
- "We reached for each other, and I thought of how many nights I had lain awake in this room, loving him in silence." p. 89
-"Such a fine gift would have taken weeks of Chiron's deft shaping; he must have begun it almost the day that we left. Did he know, or only guess at Achilles' destiny? As he lay alone in his rose-colored cave, had some glimmer of prophecy come to him? Perhaps he simply assumed: a bitterness of habit, of boy after boy trained for music and medicine and unleashed for murder." p. 140
- "The fates had said nothing about me – nothing about how long I would live. I woke Achilles, in panic. 'I will be there,' he promised me." p. 236
- "As the fire died down, we would wipe the juice of the meal from our faces and clamor for stories from Phoinix. He would lean forward in his chair to oblige. The firelight made the bones of his face look significant, Delphic, something the augurs might try to read." p. 252
- "His hands were spear calloused but beautiful still. No hands had ever been so gentle, or so deadly." p. 254
-"In the darkness, two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dusk. Their hands meet, and light spills in a flood like a hundred golden urns pouring out of the sun." p. 369

Hope you enjoyed! 


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