Cannonball Read IV: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Song of Achilles is the story of the great mythological hero from the point of view of his beloved companion, Patroclus.
Full disclosure: I love anything to do with Greek mythology and the Trojan War. I even watch the movie Troy whenever it's on, for which my husband mocks me brutally. (The film IS a real stinker despite the talent involved, but I can't help myself.) Achilles has never been a favorite of mine, what with sulking in his tent and the (spoiler!) vindictive treatment of Hector's body and all. But, this promised to be a fresh look at the oft-told tale and I dove in.
Unlike many modern takes on the story, this book stays relatively close to the source material. The gods and mythical creatures are real, and play an important part in the plot. The usual suspects are all accounted for: clever Odysseus, villainous Agamemnon, honorable but clueless Menelaus. And Hector, who we only ever see from the Greek lines.
The Trojan War itself, though defining, is not the focus of most of the book. We are taken from Patroclus' early days, to his fostering at the court of King Peleus, where we meets Prince Achilles. He's dazzled by the glorious and golden prince, and doesn't really fit in. Before long Achilles chooses the newcomer as his most favored companion, and not long after the two become lovers.
The story is told in the first person, and Patroclus' "voice" is a sweet one. Despite this, I never really felt as if I understood what drew him and Achilles together. The two of them are so different - Achilles godlike and distant, Patroclus self-effacing and human. Perhaps it's because I never felt as if I got to know Achilles.
A couple of years ago I read Margaret George's Helen of Troy. Told from Helen's point of view, it drew me in almost immediately and some of the more haunting images from it have stayed with me. The narration had a way of making me feel as if I were there, instead of watching the action from a distance. I think this is where The Song of Achilles ultimately fell short for me. I never connected with the characters in a meaningful way. It was a quick read, and enjoyable, but not something that will linger in my memory.
(Title illustration: "Achilles" by László Fejös.)
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This review is part of Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.
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