Where do I even begin with Madeline Miller? I fell in love with Circe when I read it in January, and it seems The Song of Achilles, Miller’s 2011 debut, is just as fantastic. My one complaint is more out of sadness than disappointment. If it took Miller ten years to write this novel and seven to write Circe, will I really have to wait five or ten years to read another one of Miller’s retellings? It’s only been a few hours since I finished The Song of Achilles and the wait has already become nearly unbearable.
I think what makes Miller’s novels so incredible is her voice. Her sentences, short but heavy with imagery, give the book the same feel of classic mythology and retellings. Her descriptions are dreamy, forcing me reading slower than usual to make sure I didn’t miss a single word. And, although there are plenty of battle montages and war councils, Miller shines most when writing extremely emotional scenes, such as when Achilles kills Hector or when Patroclus confronts Thetis, Achilles’ mother, at Achilles’ grave.
“We were like gods at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.”
The Song of Achilles, as evident from its title, is the story of the famed hero, told from the perspective of his inseparable companion, Patroclus. Since the myth’s beginning, there has been much debate over the nature of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. Just like classicists such as Plato, Miller decides to cast the pair as lovers. We follow Patroclus (whose almost single personality trait seems to be his love for Achilles) from birth to death and beyond- from his first sighting of Achilles at a foot race, to training with him and Chiron as a teenager, to dying for him in the Trojan War.
Just like with Circe, Miller manages to create an extraordinary tension in the story by embracing the idea that most readers already know exactly what will happen. She lets Odysseus remark that one day he might be more well known than Achilles’ (now relatively unknown) son Pyrrhus and seems to take pleasure in letting Patroclus daydream about seeing Achilles again when readers know he is riding to his death.
“There are no bargains between lion and men. I will kill you and eat you raw.”
It may only be February, but both The Song of Achilles and Circe have been some of my favorite books to read this year. Their stunningly vivid portrayals of classics and unputdownable charisma make for a perfect rainy day read. I absolutely cannot wait to see what Miller has in store next. If only I didn’t have to wait.