I have always been fascinated by Greek history and mythology. I came across this book while reading up an interview and a friend had nothing but praise for it. Though, I am generally wary of picking up a new book and always look for reviews from the sites I trust before taking a decision, I bought The Song of Achilles immediately from Kindle Store.
The Trojan War is a secondary event in this book and it, for the most part, focuses on the relationship between the Greek hero Achilles and his lesser known companion, Patroculus. So don’t expect a detailed account of the siege of Troy. Patroculus, an exiled prince who is sent to foster with Achilles, prince of Phthia, also acts as the narrator throughout the book.
Madeline Miller has nicely elaborated on the conjectured homosexual bond between Achilles and Patroculus. The story starts with the childhood of Patroculus, who is a wimpy, frail kid and a constant source of embarrassment to his father, for he is a prince and has nothing princely about him. He accidentally murders a bullying boy and is then exiled by his father who is more pleased than otherwise to get rid of him. Of course, historically, it is not perfectly true, like many other events in the book, but then this is more a what-might-have-happened than a what-really-happened book. Well, you can’t trust historical accounts either, not completely anyway.
After being exiled, Patroculus and Achilles meet and quickly become staunch companions. After that, well… a lot happens after that and before the Trojan War and you ought to read and know for yourself. Of course, the homosexual relationship between the two boys is quite patent here rather than only alluded to, like in Iliad and other accounts. Achilles’ mother, the sea nymph Thetis, has a pretty important role in the book. She has a particular and unaccounted dislike for mortals, including her husband. Needless to say, she loathes Patroculus and his relationship with Achilles and tries her best to separate their paths.
Writing is good. The prose is modern but works really well for the story. I don’t have a particular liking to first-person narratives but here, I liked it for some reason I can’t pinpoint. Characters are nicely drawn. Odysseus is my favourite Trojan war character and Madeline has done justice to the character in The Song of Achilles. Though, I would have liked to see more of Ajax. Another character I loved was Chiron – the king of the Centaurs who educated Achilles and according to this book, Patroculus as well.
One of my very few grouses with the book was the lack of humour. But this is pretty forgivable when you consider that it tells a tragic tale, more or less. Still, a bit of drollness wouldn’t have done any harm.
Perfect pace, nice characters, good story – this book has all the ingredients of an excellent book. It is a hypnotic read. Suggested for Iliad and Greek history lovers.