The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Ecco • $14.99 • ISBN 9780062060624
Published March 2012 • Winner of the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction
Confession: Homer doesn’t do it for me. Greek mythology was fun, but The Odyssey was the one book in high school that I, an avowed abhorrer of Cliffs Notes, ever faked finishing (sorry, Mrs. Brown!), and I never even bothered giving The Iliad a try. (This decision was later validated in my mind after watching the 2004 film Troy, which I found just OK, despite the eye candy of Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom and Eric Bana.) So the idea of enjoying a novel based on The Iliad . . . well, it sounded unlikely to say the least.
But readers and reviewers—people whose opinions I respected—kept buzzing about The Song of Achilles. When it won the Orange Prize, putting it in the company of several of my favorite novels, I decided it was time to put my prejudices aside and dive in. And I’m glad I did. Miller’s novel has poetic touches, and the world is one that readers of Homer will recognize, but she imagines it in a more personal light: through the lens of the friendship and eventual love story between Patroclus, a disgraced Greek prince, and the warrior Achilles, a demigod with a tragic destiny. Patroclus narrates the novel, and the strong bond between him and Achilles provides an intimate counterpoint to the epic chronicle of the Trojan War.
Patroclus first sees Achilles when they are both children and Achilles has come to run in the games held in Patrocles’ father’s kingdom.
He is shorter than the others, and still plump with childhood in a way they are not. His hair is long, and tied back with leather; it burns against the dark, bare skin of his back. His face, when he turns, is as serious as a man’s.
When the priest strikes the ground, he slips past the thickened bodies of the older boys. He moves easily, his heels flashing pink as licking tongues. He wins.
I stare as my father lifts the garland from my lap and crowns him; the leaves seem almost black against the brightness of his hair. His father, Peleus, comes to claim him, smiling and proud. Peleus’ kingdom is smaller than ours, but his wife is rumored to be a goddess, and his people love him. My father watches with envy. His wife is stupid and his son too slow to race in even the youngest group. He turns to me.
“This is what a son should be.”
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