Books & Literature

Book Review: The Song of Achilles (10th Anniversary Special Edition), by Madeline Miller

ROMANCE: A retelling of the story of Greece’s greatest hero Achielles from the point of view of his best friend and partner Patroclus.

Can’t fault this beautifully written epic love story.

Researchers believe that Homer’s Iliad was written around the 8th century B.C., and though nearly 3,000 years have passed, we are still uttering the name Achilles. Whether you’re a Classics enthusiast, a fan of Brad Pitt (who portrayed the Greek hero in the 2004 film Troy), or have simply heard the name in relation to the anatomy of your foot, it’s likely that you’ve stumbled across this famous moniker before.

The Song of Achilles explores what it is about the mythical figure that has made his fame last for millennia. The son of a sea nymph, Achilles was impossibly strong and looked like a god. But Madeline Miller’s best-selling novel, which was originally published in 2011, also brings another character to the fore whose name had nearly faded from history: Patroclus, Achilles’ best friend and lover.

The story follows the relationship of Achilles and Patroclus (who were portrayed as cousins in Pitt’s film adaptation) as they go from teenage friends to soulmates. Told from Patroclus’ perspective, the narrative largely focuses on Achilles and the spellbinding effect he has on everyone around him. Some might say that Patroclus is a stage-five clinger in his obsession with the hero, but I found this helped to characterise Achilles as the godlike figure he was portrayed to be among Green audiences.

It requires certain talent to take a story that has been told for thousands of years, maintain the conventions that made it so powerful, and yet still say something new. This is a fresh retelling of the Illiad while still preserving most of the original storyline and the complex secondary characters that feature in the epic. A teacher of Latin and Ancient Greek, Miller is clearly well-versed in her subject and perfectly captures the views of Ancient Greek society. She also nails the characterisation of figures like Odysseus, Briseis, and Agamemnon.

After its original publication, The Song of Achilles went on to sell more than 1.5 million copies. This 10th anniversary edition features a stylish hardback cover and a new forward from the author. For those who aren’t familiar with the Iliad or interested in Classics, this is worth the read purely for the breathtaking prose. The writing is poetic and polished, to the point where Homer himself would perhaps be impressed.

From the high stakes of the Trojan War to the passionate romance and deep love between Achilles and Patroclus, The Song of Achilles is an explosion of feeling that will leave you in tears. There’s no question why it was awarded the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012, or why Madeline Miller is now an established star of mythological realism. This retelling is proof that the real love story at Troy wasn’t Paris and Helen or Hector and Andromache, but Achilles and Patroclus.

Reviewed by Vanessa Elle
Instagram: @vanessaellewrites

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Bloomsbury
Released: November 2021
RRP: $39.99

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