Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles is the translation of the Epic Cycle of poems on the Trojan War from the kind of dense verse that will make even the most devoted Classics major rethink their life choices into prose so moving even a mathematics major might consider taking a lit class or two. You could say I enjoyed it.
Miller’s grasp of descriptive language is unparalleled. She makes you inhabit her narrator, Patroclus, so that you live in him, with him, in his world. You feel the blades of grass under his feet, the shocking cold of the stream he crosses, the warm weight of sun upon his shoulders. You experience his attraction to Achilles, the same attraction that everyone experiences, for who could not be drawn into his shining orbit? And you feel how that attraction is different, something else, something deeply, unfathomably more.
The story of how Patroclus and Achilles grow up together is filled with delight and wonder. The story of how they fall in love is filled with passion and doubt that exists only long enough to be extinguished with the fervor and unrivaled certainty of First Love, True Love. The story of how they die is filled with single-minded devotion. Their story truly is a song, rapturous and agonizing, painful and triumphant, almost too full for words to capture. It is the kind of story that makes you feel like nothing existed before it – it is the first love story, the first war story, the first story of brotherhood, of devotion, of tragic death. This is one of the best books I have read all year, and one of the best love stories I have read ever.
Rating: Five stars and a spritz bottle