Madeleine Miller is the much-praised author of the recently published and hugely successful Circe, which we at Bookstoker loved. In my view, Miller’s debut novel, The Song of Achilles, first published in 2012 and the winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction that year, is even better. This spellbinding novel is a must-read for anyone who loved Circe, The Silence of the Girls , has an interest in the Greek myths or is simply looking for an addictively good read.
Miller, a scholar of Latin and Ancient Greek, immerses the reader in ancient Greece as she boldly retells The Iliad’s famous legend of Achilles from the point of view of Patroclus, an awkward, lonely young prince. Shamed and then exiled by his father to the court of King Peleus and his golden boy demi-god son Achilles, Patroclus and Achilles quickly become close friends and grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine.
Despite the disgust of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a capriciously cruel sea goddess, their bond deepens into something more than simple friendship. Helen of Sparta is kidnapped and Achilles, ‘best of all the Greeks’, has no choice but to go to war in far-away Troy and fulfill his destiny. Miller describes Achilles as ‘like a flame himself. He glittered, drew eyes.’ Unable to live without him, the ever-loyal Patroclus goes with Achilles, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
Miller normalises ideas and concepts such as sexual slavery and human sacrifice and unbreakable prophecies, which gives the reader a fresh lens on the strange world of ancient Greece. With its breathless battles between gods and kings and a passionate, raw love story, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller captures a world inhabited both by gods and monsters and hidden, tender, unbreakable lovers.
The mighty heroes and villains of classical mythology are made to sing once again as Miller’s richly imaginative, retelling of the 3000-year-old Trojan War breathes fresh life into these seductive legends.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is published by Bloomsbury, 416 pages.