BookBrowse Reviews The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Song of Achilles

A Novel

by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2012, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2012, 384 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


The tale of Achilles and the Trojan War told from the perspective of Patroclus

Winner of the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction

Gaining a different perspective on an old story by placing a minor character in the narrator's seat is not a new technique, but it's one that Madeline Miller uses superbly in her debut novel, The Song of Achilles. Throughout the book she outlines the mythological life of the half-god Achilles and skillfully weaves his fabled companion Patroclus into each important event of the hero's life. It is through Patroclus's eyes that the reader witnesses legendary scenes such as Achilles' training with the centaur Chiron and his conquests on the battlefield. However, the narration reflects more on Patroclus than its subject, and surprisingly it is Patroclus that we come to know and admire, not Achilles; the former becomes the hero of the tale.

Miller's storyline relies primarily on her narrator's richly detailed observations, and although the plot will be familiar to most readers, Patroclus's point of view adds a freshness that is highly entertaining. That alone says much about the author's talent (and perhaps her courage); producing a well-written, satisfying work based on a classic is no mean feat.

Her clipped sentences and undemanding vocabulary prevent the story from becoming mired in description and make The Song of Achilles a fast and absorbing read. The cadence gives the narrative an appropriate epic feel, as if it were an oral tale instead of a written one.

[Achilles] did not kneel. He did not call out a greeting to the great king, or incline his head or offer a gift. He did nothing but stand straight, chin proudly lifted, before them all... My hands clutched each other behind my back as I watched Achilles and the game he played. His face seemed cut from stone as he stared his warning at the king of Mycenae - You do not command me. The silence went on and on, painful and breathless, like a singer overreaching to finish a phrase.

However, the novel does have a few small weaknesses. Miller fails to fully develop Achilles in drawing the contrast between the two main characters. He comes off flat and distant, and the reader doesn't really learn more about him than what can be gleaned from legend. (But perhaps this is the author's intention in order to keep the focus elsewhere?) I also found that while Miller's descriptions of the setting are fairly good, they still fall short in their ability to truly evoke time and place. I have a feeling that I wouldn't have noticed this failing quite so much if the rest of her writing hadn't been so vivid.

Readers should also be aware that Miller speculates that the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was physical as well as emotional (and certainly the interpretation is a reasonable one based on the source material). The novel contains scenes of physical intimacy, which are handled circumspectly and without a lot of graphic description.

Most readers who enjoy historical fiction will find something to love about this book. Miller's writing is beautiful, and that in itself is worth the price of admission. The moving, romantic nature of the narrative is nicely balanced with tales of heroism, particularly once the scene shifts to the Trojan War. This debut is a definite winner.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review is from the March 21, 2012 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.



This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Evolution of Achilles

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
    The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
    by Hannah Tinti
    Hannah Tinti follows her spectacular 2008 debut, The Good Thief, with a novel of uncommon ...
  • Book Jacket: Music of the Ghosts
    Music of the Ghosts
    by Vaddey Ratner
    Music of the Ghosts is about healing and forgiveness, but it is also about identity and the revival ...
  • Book Jacket: Castle of Water
    Castle of Water
    by Dane Huckelbridge
    When a whopping 24 out of 27 readers give a book 4 or 5 stars, you know you have a winner on your ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Nest
by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

A funny and acutely perceptive debut about four siblings and the fate of their shared inheritance.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Stars Are Fire
    by Anita Shreve

    An exquisitely suspenseful novel about an extraordinary young woman tested by a catastrophic event.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Manderley Forever
    by Tatiana de Rosnay

    Bestselling author Tatiana de Rosnay pays homage to Daphne du Maurier.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

A book is one of the most patient of all man's inventions.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Y S M B, I'll S Y

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
Modal popup -