The Song of Achilles

Written by Madeline Miller
Review by Helene Williams

Whether you are fascinated by the history and the people of The Iliad, or you’re looking for an achingly good love story, or you want to escape from an over-connected world to one where gods, not gadgets, rule, this book is for you. Miller’s debut novel, a retelling of the life of Achilles through the eyes and voice of his lover Patroclus, is a tour de force of history, mythology, politics, and devotion.

Most readers will know the basic storyline, and Miller stays true to the events portrayed in The Iliad while contributing her own insights. Here, she begins with the young Patroclus being banished from his father’s kingdom and sent as an orphan to Phthia, where King Peleus trained other such outcasts for battle. Peleus’s son, Achilles, befriends Patroclus, and the two young men are sent into the wilderness to be taught by Chiron, before heading to Troy for a ten-year war to rescue Helen from her captors.

What Miller adds is depth, and life, to every character and facet of the story: Thetis, mother of Achilles, is a powerful, at times terrifying force; Odysseus is revealed as a thoughtful man not above using trickery to gain the advantage; Agamemnon, leader of the Greek army, is at times more evil than honorable. And of course there is the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, which starts as friendship and grows into a deep, undying love, even though both men know there can be no happy ending.

Immersion into Miller’s world, with descriptions reminiscent of Mary Renault at her best, and not a single false note in the dialogue, is a true pleasure. Readers may suffer from withdrawal as they reluctantly finish this book, and this reviewer hopes to see more soon from this talented author.