I grew up with the classic tales of the Greek, Roman and Norse mythology. All these fascinating, bloody and tragic stories of heroes and their epic adventures, romances and, most often, bloody deaths. And of course I loved it and still do.
First I wasn't sure at all if I really wanted to read a book about the perfect hero Achilles. Though there was already plenty of hype around this book before it received the Orange Prize 2012, Achilles never seemed very appealing to me. He always came across as exceedingly arrogant, selfish and blood thirsty without any additional character depth. Notice the past tense as I couldn't have been more wrong! Madeline Miller creates her very own interpretation of Achilles with all his flaws and qualities and he become less of an hero and more of an actual human being, a boy raised (born?) to be a worrier and later a man at war.
However The Song of Achilles is first of all about Patroclus. The name Patroclus is forever linked with Achilles and of course I have come across this Greek in stories before. But, shame on me, I have never actually taken any special interest in his life before. He was one of these characters who are always there but never the center of an event. Fortunately Madeline Miller's debut novel finally rights this oversight. In addition though I have read quite a few book about the infamous Trojan War, all of them had one thing in common: they were written from the Trojans points of view. The Song of Achilles is written from Patroclus point of view. In nowadays young adult literature a very rare occasion and therefore both refreshing and insightful.
Patroclus voice is amazing. He gives us a glimpse of ancient Greek civilisation without transforming the story into a history reference book. He becomes alive in very detailed and colourful way. And very soon I started to care strongly for him as he is so very loveable with his stubbornness, pride, empathy, selflessness and unfailing love for his friend Achilles. Both meet when they are 10 years old and Patroclus is sent to Peleus (Achilles's father) palace to be raised. Soon they form a extremely tight friendship which is only strengthens during their training years in the wilderness with Chiron, the king of Centaurs. I was actually surprised when the feelings between these two turned to romantic love, but it fit so very well. This was also the moment I began to regret my knowledge of Greek Mythology. I knew what was coming and you can only change the story of a well-known mythological person so much. I dreaded the oncoming events. I wanted Patroclus and Achilles to be happy and to have a life away from the ugliness of a war and a terrible prophecy.
Unfortunately the Trojan War is about to beginn and our heroes, I have to include Patroclus, he has more honor in his pinky finger than most so-called heroes have altogether, depart for Troy (after some dramatic challenges). Have I mentioned that I hate prophecies? They are almost always depressive and ruin lives. Nothing good ever comes out of knowing your maybe future!
I don't know how much I should share about the ending. It's not exactly unknown what happens, but I don't want to ruin anybodies expectations. Lets just mention that I thought it was handled utterly well, the emotions are running high and I had to get several new tissues out. This is an heart-breaking and gorgeous love story. I also started pondering the ideas behind honor and what is right to do and what is not, in war or otherwise. Is revenge a right or a petty reaction? What defines a hero? Now and 3000 years ago? There is no obvious answer and after reading this book I definitely biased concerning Achilles.
Ultimately The Song of Achilles was a joy to read. This book made me laugh, cry, love and hate. It's a beautifully written re-telling of a classic tale and in addition gives Patroclus a face and character. Astonishingly enough this is a debut novel and I can only hope that Madeline Miller will write a lot more books!