The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Every once in a while a book comes along and takes your breath away. If you’re very lucky, you stumble across a gem with fully developed characters, beautiful prose, and an engaging story. The Song of Achilles is that book. I’d fallen in love with the idea of Achilles in high school Latin class but my passion for the myth came when I read The Iliad in college. Homer’s musical language is so beautiful even in translation.
Perhaps it’s a bit haughty to try and compete with Homer. However in what is essentially fanfiction, Miller manages to glorify the original myth while still providing new and interesting insight. Achilles seems more alive than he did in the epic poem and is simultaneously more vulnerable and more powerful. Perhaps it’s because Miller manages to fill in blanks that Homer left out such as why Achilles was so distraught at Patroclus’s death or how Achilles came to be the warrior who fought with the Greeks.
I was particularly interested in the way that Miller characterizes Achilles’ mother, Thetis. We get only a glimpse at her rage in The Iliad but in The Song of Achilles we really feel her strength. She is a woman who had her whole life stolen by an unworthy prince and knowing her emotions makes her fury a little easier to bear.
I love a good fanfic as much as the next girl, but this book is so much more than that. Like Wide Sargasso Sea did for Bertha, The Song of Achilles fills out Patroclus’ character. I’ve been eager to re-read The Iliad with this new perspective.
- Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (Based on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë)
- Grendel by John Gardner (Based on Beowulf)
- The Hours by Michael Cunningham (Based on Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf)
- March by Geraldine Brooks (Based on Little Women by Louisa May Alcott)
- The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (Based on The Odyssey by Homer)
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