The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller


Published in 2012, The Song of Achilles won the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction. Based on Homer’s Iliad and the siege of Troy, it reimagines the story through the eyes of Patroclus. As a boy prince, he was exiled to Peleus’ kingdom following his disgrace after the killing of a nobleman’s son. I read this book for my Book Club and I found myself hooked quite early on and enjoyed seeing life from Patroclus’ perspective. It did not worry me that Achilles’ thoughts were largely a mystery as that seemed appropriate for someone with his parentage. The son of Peleus and the goddess, Thetis, Achilles grew up to be the supreme warrior but was shown to have human faults. The story centres around the growing friendship and love between Patroclus and Achilles. 

Dealing as it does in the land of Myths and Legends, it would have been easy for the book to become two dimensional. Miller merges the world of man and the gods seamlessly and within the context of the story, I was able to believe in the events which could have seemed like fantasy. As young adolescents, Achilles, with Patroclus goes to be tutored by Chiron, a centaur, as preparation for his destiny as one of the greatest Greek warriors. This section seemed logical within the story and never absurd. The descriptions of the caves and the mountains are detailed and believable.

I personally found the depiction of Thetis, the sea nymph to be the most moving part of the book. Her rape by Peleus at the behest of the gods had produced Achilles. It had been prophesied that her child would be greater than his father. The gods feared this and made sure that his father was mortal and no threat to them. Her whole existence after this seems to be to try to protect him so that he can fulfil his destiny through her strength and power. As a goddess, she does not understand love and particularly disapproves of Achilles relationship with Patroclus.

If the book has a true hero, it has to be Patroclus with all his human faults and frailties. He is shown to have compassion and courage. He shows us Achilles’ human side and enables us to care what happens to him. 

In short: a page turner which keeps you engaged to the final word.

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