Book Review: Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Liam Maher
May 4, 2021

In Miller’s first novel, she delicately recreates the legendary story of the Greeks at Troy by calling upon Homer’s Iliad to narrate the events of Achilles' life. In doing so, Miller brings the ancient text into the modern era by eloquently shifting the lens to the story of Patroclus. Patroclus, as described in the Iliad, is referred to by Achilles as the ‘best beloved of his companions’. This is what inspires Miller (as well as the well-accepted reading by the Greeks that Patroclus and Achilles were indeed lovers) to place Patroclus at the fore so that we may view the entire text from the eyes of Achilles’ lover.

Photo of a hand holding up a paperback copy of The Song of Achilles.

The love story, as it has been titled by Miller, uncovers the love and passion beneath the war and violence. The text is carefully constructed with poetic elements and details that make hearts flutter and eyes wet, and which dance beautifully to illustrate the story of an exile falling in love with a demi-god.

He knew, but it was not enough. The sorrow was so large it threatened to tear through my skin. When he died, all things swift and beautiful and bright would be buried with him.

Miller fills in the gaps left by her predecessors by bringing to life previously overlooked figures like Iphigenia and Briseis, and in doing so, she highlights the painstakingly clear message that the story of Achilles is deeper than his death. Miller exposes the multifaceted nature of Achilles, revealing passion, love and sacrifice. As Natalie Haynes so brilliantly concluded:

This is a deeply affecting version of the Achilles story: a fully three-dimensional man – a son, a father, husband and lover – now exists where a superhero previously stood and fought.

The Song of Achilles has made a significant impression on me, quickly becoming a favourite and only taking six hours to read. Miller's majestic control and employment of language, research and passion creates a stunning novel that you will not be able to put down.

I rate this novel a 4.5 out of 5.

Illustration of four and a half stars drawn onto a torn slip of paper.

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