The Song of Achilles Review

Student | Charlie Mills

Madeline Miller’s novel The Song of Achilles was in fact her first, but the vividness and emotion in her writing suggests writing skill far beyond that of any ordinary debut. From the very first page I was hooked, and immediately read the first seventeen chapters over the course of a two-hour train journey. I could barely put the thing down, so desperate was I to read the retelling of the tragedy of Achilles and Patroclus. Academics have, throughout the years, debated the nature of the love between the two and Miller certainly puts her own spin on the tale, positioning herself firmly on the ‘romantic’ side. But, no matter which side you are on, you absolutely must readThe Song of Achilles.

I have already called her writing vivid; allow me to show you what I mean. The story is told not by the traditional hero, Achilles, but rather Patroclus, an exiled prince who was raised by Achilles’ family. Perhaps the most famous quotation from the book is this: “I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.” While it certainly invokes a strong image, as does the final sentence of the story – which I shall come back to, for it deserves its own point – the way that Miller writes emotions that are so tangible and real, particularly emotions that are difficult to put into the right words, is absolutely beautiful.

“I feel like I could eat the world raw”

The above in a particular is a favourite of mine. As well as,

“It was almost like fear, in the way it filled me, rising in my chest. It was almost like tears, in how swiftly it came. But it was neither of those, buoyant where they were heavy, bright where they were dull”

This is me speaking from the heart, now: the way she writes love restores my faith in it. Even though this story ends in tragedy, as it must, the love it encapsulates is real, and the characters do find peace. Hence the ending: “At first I do not understand. But then I see the tomb, and the marks she has made on the stone. A C H I L L E S, it reads. And beside it, P A T R O C L U S.
“Go,” she says. “He waits for you.”

In the darkness, two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dusk. Their hands meet, and light spills in a flood like a hundred golden urns pouring out of the sun.”

LR3_The Song of Achilles - Charlie Mills, Image A.jpg

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