A captivating take on a classic: Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Posted by Justine Solomons on 15 June 2012, in Recommendations

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Review written by Tracey Sinclair

Orange award-winning novel Song of Achilles may have been ten years in the writing, but debut novelist Madeline Miller hasn’t wasted a moment of her time: this is a beautifully crafted, moving romance that will stay with you long after you finish it.

Classicist Miller brings all her expertise to bear in this retelling of the story of the Greek hero Achilles and his boyhood friend Patroclus. While there has been much debate as to just what the nature of their relationship was, Miller unashamedly treats it as an out and out love story, and it is this which makes the book so enthralling. We see their relationship blossom from childhood friendship to teenage infatuation to a mature and profound love that is so convincing that Achilles’ madness when his lover is taken seems not only believable but entirely understandable – the loss of such a love would indeed be too much for anyone to bear.

Miller deftly balances myth and realism in her evocative description of the Trojan campaign: this may be a land of gods and monsters, but it is also one of men and their failings, of brutal and bloody battles. She doesn’t flinch from recognising the horror of warfare, or the sorry plight of women in a world where even goddesses are trophies to be trapped and defiled. She captures, too, the feel of a culture where glory is all: so that while we may be frustrated by Achilles’ stubbornness over Agamemnon’s insult to his honour, we always understand – even if we don’t approve of – his resulting actions, even as they turn out to have such catastrophic consequences. While she may, at times, be overly fond of descriptive phrases, Miller’s prose is beautifully hypnotic, and she has crafted a gripping, compelling narrative; this is a book that you cannot put down even as you can hardly bear to keep reading, knowing that the lovers are hurtling to their fates. Rarely has there been a more worthy award winner, for in Song of Achilles, Miller has given one of literature’s greatest love stories the telling it deserves.

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