Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Musings: The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles
This book is SO GOOD.  Honestly, I was reading the first 250 to 300 pages or so and it was good but I was thinking, "I mean, this is a good book, but it's not AMAZING."  And then I spent the last 50 pages or so just bawling uncontrollably, and couldn't stop.  And I mean that in a GOOD way.  It is the kind of crying you do because you are just overwhelmed by the poetry and beauty and love of what you are reading.

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?

31 comments:

  1. I felt the same way when I finished reading this book. I haven't managed to read the Illiad or Odyssey yet but I read The Penelopiad by Atwood, Winterson's Weight and Mason's The Lost Books of the Odyssey which were all brilliant. But Miller's book has certainly re-ignited my interest and I'll be reading more myths.

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    1. I have The Lost Books of the Odyssey on my general "watch" list - I'll have to find that one!

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  2. Oh wow! I *must* read this now, even in spite of that groaner: "The rest, as they say, is history." LOL

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    1. Haha, that was ME saying that, don't blame Miller!

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    2. I *did* know that was you! ha ha. I just meant in spite of YOUR groaner, I respect YOUR review! :--) (and besides, I ***love*** groaners!) And hey, even though we are both, I'm sure, crazy busy, let's set a date for our Churchill read-together thing!

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  3. I agree. It was so good. I listened to the audio and I kept having to carve out more and more time to spend with it. And yes! the end.

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    1. Oh, gosh, I don't know if I would have been able to handle the sobbing on my commute...

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  4. Ohhh, I already had this on my tbr list but now I *really* need to bump it up! As for The Illiad, I highly rec Robert Fagles as a translator. I need to reread that; it's been so many years.

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    1. Awesome, thanks for the reco! I should have known you would have one :-)

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  5. I am reading this in spurts but it has such good reviews that I know I must get into it before spring!

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    1. It's true, one of those that has been trending a lot recently.

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  6. Aarti, I have this one, and have not yet read it, so I clearly need to! I love what you say about how the book takes you all the way up the emotional scale, and leaves you wrung out, but in a good way, and I can't imagine why I haven't read it yet!! I am so glad that you found a book to gush over and share with us. I will have to let you know what I think of it when I am done as well!

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    1. Ooh, I can't wait to know what you think of it! Read it soon ;-)

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  7. I'm sold. I just got it from the library.

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    1. Sweet! So glad/sad that it was so readily available for you.

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  8. I love when a book affects me like this. You make this one sound so good. I will have to look for this one! Thanks for another wonderful review.

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    1. It's so lovely. I hope you give it a try.

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    1. Woohoo, hope you enjoy it - will be looking forward to seeing your thoughts on Achilles' mom.

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  10. Love your enthusiasm in this review -- this has long been on my TBR but now it has jumped back up -- I need to read this and stat!

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    1. It's true, you do! Get on that, stat!

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  11. YES! This book is practically the best book, ever! I read it last year when it was nominated for the Orange Prize and like you, was bawling like a baby at the end. Glad to see it getting more love :)

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    1. I think your review is the one that put it on my wish list and then when it was available on Kindle, I just grabbed it. Want a real copy, though.

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  12. I have had this on my list ever since it came out but still haven't actually read it

    On the back of your review I have just requested it from the library.

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  13. It's locked and loaded on my Nook! I've read the first 10-15 pages, and I cannot wait to dive back in.

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  14. I really enjoyed reading this book. I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about a new take on such classic characters, but Miller is such a wonderful author that I couldn't put it down.

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  15. It was pretty amazing, wasn't it? I think this was the best romance I've read in years (other than some classics).

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  16. Fagles! I agree with the Fagles recommendation. I have the Iliad and the Odyssey in a lovely box set with the Fagles translation that Captain Hammer got for me a few birthdays ago. I love them very much. The Odyssey is really a better book, but The Iliad of course is very good also.

    And then do indeed read The Lost Books of the Odyssey. I am rereading it for the first time, and it just, wow, it really holds up. It's just as good as I remembered. Zachary Mason needs to make more books.

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  17. I loved this book myself - I am so glad you felt the same way! It still resonates with me and I read it a year ago - I've forgotten many other books in that time but I know this one will stay.

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  18. Good grief, this sounds good. I think my library has it - will have to check it out soon.

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