Whether you’ve read the Iliad or not, this modern retelling of the tragedy of the hero Achilles and his beloved Patroclus is well worth your time. It is one of those books that casts life in a new light, surprising you with the revelation that not all is as it appears. Some heroes are unexpected. To say any more would be a spoiler. And it has been too long since I last read the Iliad for me to remember if Homer himself captured what I found to be the most poignant element of the book. (See the “Spoiler Excerpt” below if you don’t mind spoilers and want to know what I mean.)
My Favorite Things:
The wonderfully developed character arc of Patroclus, an emotional and gratifying surprise. To say more would be a spoiler.
While the tragedy in the story is well-known and almost 3,000 years old, Miller’s retelling takes such full advantage of the pathos it is almost an improvement on Homer.
[I like this excerpt because it demonstrates Miller’s poetic ability which is evident throughout the book, lending the entire novel a graceful splendor.] —
“Achilles nodded and bent over the lyre . . . The sound was pure and sweet as water, bright as lemons. It was like no music I had ever heard before. It had warmth as a fire does, a texture and weight like polished ivory. It buoyed and soothed at once. A few hairs slipped forward to hang over his eyes as he played. They were fine as the lyre itself, and shone.”
[This excerpt highlights the theme of tragedy in life, even for the “great ones.”] --
“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.”
[This excerpt is one of many in which Miller shows us how gods exceed us in glory. And Thetis is only a minor deity, as nothing compared to the Olympians.] --
“It was strange to see her among mortals; she made all of them, guards and Peleus alike, look bleached and wan, though it was her skin that was pale as bone. She stood well away from them, spearing the sky with her unnatural height. The guards lowered their eyes in fear and deference.”
Spoiler Excerpt -- Please only read if you’ve already read The Song of Achilles or simply don’t mind spoilers.
[What I love about this is the unanticipated moment when we question who is the hero of the novel. Is it Achilles?]
“Briseis does not flinch. ‘Kill me. It will not bring him back. He was worth ten of you. Ten!’ . . . Achilles buries his face in his hands. But she does not relent. ‘You have never deserved him. I do not know why he ever loved you. You only care for yourself!’”