The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller, is told from the point of view of Patroclus. Born to a cruel father and a simple-minded mother, Patroclus' life really begins when he's exiled to Phthia. There, he meets the golden boy Achilles, who will be the greatest warrior the world has ever known. But Achilles is not war-obsessed. He is kind and trusting and friendly and he plays the lyre beautifully. Patroclus and Achilles become good friends, then they become inseparable, and then they become lovers. And when Achilles goes to fight in the Trojan War and gain his fame, Patroclus goes, too.
The rest, as they say, is history.
But history can be reinterpreted and rewritten and brought back to life in so many ways. And Madeline Miller does just that, with beautiful language, a deep and abiding love, and a story about the myriad ways in which pride, war, and friendship can influence us.
This is one of those book that you finish and just don't know what to do next. You don't want to pick up another book to read because you want to continue savoring this one. You aren't yet ready to move onto something else and leave this one behind. You look at other people who haven't read the book and just shake your head because they DO NOT KNOW what they have missed and strangely don't seem to care. So you just kind of sit there, clutching this book to your chest and trying to determine how to bring the pieces of your life back together.
There were so many things to love about this book. One of the best things was that Achilles and Patroclus treated each other as equals. Achilles was kind and thoughtful and wonderful to Patroclus, and Patroclus was wonderful right back. While Achilles was famous and beautiful and a truly glorious fighter, Patroclus was patient and caring and thoughtful and both men gained the respect of their companions.
Also, Miller wrote the love story so beautifully. While many of Achilles' friends and family did not understand his relationship with Patroclus, he didn't care. He refused to give Patroclus up, regardless of what people might think of him and their relationship. And he never made Patroclus feel like he wasn't good enough. It was such a supportive and healthy relationship, and I loved that.
And then the ending. My goodness. I already mentioned above that I sobbed my way through the last 50 pages or so, first in grief and then in happiness and really also for everything in between those two emotions, too. There is just so much that is amazing here, and I know that I am not being very articulate in trying to describe to you why you should read this. I'm sorry for that. What can I say? Just read it. You won't be sorry. Patroclus points out that Achilles is most famous for acts he committed while experiencing extreme grief. Are those the acts that should define our lives? Or should we be remembered for the smaller things - not for being the world's greatest warrior but for being a fantastic lyre player? I loved that Miller addresses this because I think it's so true and such a powerful reminder of how little control we have over our legacies. Would Achilles want to be remembered for the deaths he caused? Or would he prefer to be remembered for a different reason? And do his preferences even matter? The scene between Patroclus and Achilles' mother at the end, with Patroclus pointing out all the wonderful things that Achilles did in his life that did not involve warfare was just SO GOOD. And the cause of many tears. But the good tears, remember!
Now that I've finished this one, I really want to read The Iliad. Does anyone have a translation they recommend?