The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller Book Review

a.k.a. The greatest love story Greek literature has ever told

All I am feeling right now is numbing sorrow. I’ve been blindly wishing that maybe these two men will not die — maybe Iliad is just a fabrication of everyone’s mind, or the author will spare us from the gruesome truth — everything is plausible as long as it will not cause melancholia and hysteria on my fragile soul.

Yet it did not. I really should expect that.

I regret reading this because from now on, I will always have the urge to eliminate all forthcoming opinions that maliciously spit ‘platonic’, ‘bromance’, ‘insert-inventive-etymologies-to-define-borderline-homosexuality’ just to justify the infamous close relationship of Achilles and Patroclus. I will fight for their romance that costs more than Helen’s vanity-driven fleets. Here I am, the next Aristos Achaion.

Let’s cut the chase — that’s what I want to say, but what is Greek mythology if not prolonged and poignant?

Historical Fiction was the genre I grew up with that never stayed in my system to ingrain itself enough with its ambiguous truths and fantasy inside my curious mind. I had a fascination towards it in my teens and I can still remember its fire getting forgotten and left dying as I got hooked to other things. My love for history urged it, yet it’s still not enough for me to stay on the Historical Fiction track. Well, until now.

This genre is all about vagueness and veiling all the impossible truths and possible lies, giving us a limited perspective in the history we are reading. You can consider a book credible once you can’t recognize the borders and the figure points, and all we can do is swallow what has been given to us to eat: The Song of Achilles just did that astoundingly.

Madeleine Miller uses Iliad as its skeleton and put delicate fleshes of events to fit in every unprecedented bones; it is for us to see the lyrical sound of Achilles and Patroclus’s relationship. It’s like a backstage pass to this tragic play where we can see first-hand the stolen kisses, whispers of promises, and every elements that blossomed into their irrevocable bond that Iliad seems to shadow us from.

I might be familiar with Helen and her infamous face that sailed a politically incorrect value of ships, but Patroclus and Achilles never bothered to scratch my brain as I familiarised myself with the Greek epic written by Homer. Miller’s use of Patroclus’s point of view gives me a foreign perspective together with his frailty, unending kindness, and hopeless infatuation towards Achilles, it puts more spice to increase my empathy towards his character.

Yet that is also the flaw of this book. Romance and war are always a good combination to ensue, not to mention its easing relations as time passes by; but the book did not produce the Greek anathema I was looking for ever since the first utterance of Patroclus’s voice in my head. I can certainly feel both of their love, but at the same time, it lacks love. It’s romantic, but not to the certain depth I thought I would find between two warriors. Love is the most abstract of all emotions but it never forgets its feral ways. No matter how innocent and confounding it is, there should always be a scenario where both play with morality — how deep it is and how far they can take this boxing seclusion. Their relationship does have that, but it never upped to the point of questioning. I can still reason their affections but that’s the exact opposite of what I was looking for. Their love should be too deep that I will throw away any rationality — losing oneself.

All in all, I enjoyed the book. The author played with the fact that we already know what will happen, that’s why the dropping of signs — which the book coyly termed as prophesies — on the next circumstances made our knees buckling towards the upending death. I even caught myself a few times trying to talk the character out of their wrong decisions, where we can change their course and let both of them live. In the end, I just followed the flow. No matter how hard and hoarse my voice will be after all those shouting, the gods will still do their job by weaving their supposedly fate.

Well, the author gave us a sort-of happy ending, right? That’s actually and surprisingly enough for me.

At least in the underworld they can finally sing their songs to each other freely. They are gods of their own.

Postscript: As always, the playlist.