The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Caidyn’s rating: 4.5 stars

Chantel’s rating: 5 stars

One of my favorite movies is Troy. I can’t remember when I first watched it, but all I know was that I was utterly captivated by the story. Stealing a wife, the retribution to come. The way the gods played their roles. Achilles and his downfall centered around Patroclus. I mean, that movie was beautifully made and Josh Groban’s song, to this day, makes me tear up on so many levels. So, when Chantel proposed to read this book together, I jumped on it because I’ve been meaning to read it for years.

The foreshadowing that Miller gave throughout the book was utterly gorgeous. I caught every line and every line made my heart hurt because I knew what was going to happen and what was coming. The way she worked the language of the book was fantastic, leaving me with so many memorable quotes that I can’t really pick one without having to include a whole slew of others.

It’s one of those books that took something highly marginalized in The Iliad — the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus; something the movie took and spun them as cousins — and highlighted what the reality likely was. Basically, it takes something that is super heteronormative after years of washing the gay away and all the commentaries that say nothing was there and even a movie that added in a straight romance plot for Achilles and that this was normal between male friends during this time period, then turned it into a great LGBT+ book.

Honestly, I was worried that the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus would feel forced. That it would really feel tacked on and that it wouldn’t flow. The last thing I wanted was for it to overshadow the actual story and to cause more angst and drama about it. Yet, Miller integrated it so well that I could barely tell where the myth began and her story started. While building their relationship was the focus for 50% of the book, it never felt awkward and, I have to say, I was almost shouting at them to kiss at some points until they actually did. By the end, they were an old married couple with grievances and pains that welled up but they still loved each other despite the things they hated about one another.

While there were things I didn’t exactly enjoy about it — I thought the last few chapters could have been shortened to just one and they were a bit awkward to read — this book is a solid 4.5 for me.

It’s rare that I get so emotionally invested in a book that it brings me to tears. This has happened already this year with The Book Thief and it happened when I first read A Monster Calls and now, once again, it has happened with The Song of Achilles.

I’d just like to say this first and foremost, this book contained some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever written. I have not been so in awe of an author’s ability to put words together in a beautiful way as I am with Madeline Miller. This could truly be a song with how lyrical the writing is. More than anything, I will look at this book fondly for its writing. There is so much talent and skill and you can’t help but continue to read page after page, chapter after chapter.

There is a common theme in the books I read. Most of them contain LGBTQ+ main characters. Those are the books I relate to most as a queer lady. It comes from a longing and a desire to see others such as myself live and love like a straight couple would. This book did it beautifully and without using the modern labels we have now. This book is about two boys whose friendship ultimately turns to love and it was uplifting at times and heartbreaking at others. I have never seen a same-sex relationship portrayed more normally than Achilles and Patroclus. That might have something to do with the Ancient Greek setting, where two boys being lovers wasn’t unusual. At least until they married. It was just portrayed as two people in love. There were forces that tried to pull them apart but ultimately failed. Neither of them were dedicated to anyone except each other. I think that’s what made this hit me so deeply. They weren’t just two people in love but companions. In a lot of books where teenagers are romantically involved, there is always angst. It doesn’t matter what genre or the gender of the couple, angst is present. That’s not to say there isn’t angst in this, but when it comes to their love for each other; it’s never questioned and doesn’t lessen over time. I never questioned whether or not they would be together or stay together because I knew from the beginning.

As someone who is a romantic at heart, it is easy to say that love conquers all and above all else love will prevail. That isn’t necessarily the case. Love might come second to some. Not every person views love with the reverence I do and that might affect how emotional I have gotten over this book. There are all the classic elements of a Greek tragedy and it hurts, it aches, but sometimes we need that catharsis.

I don’t seek out tragedies. I don’t like them, frankly. This book left me in quite a state, and because of that, I don’t know if I will read it again. At least not anytime soon. However, it takes a great book to make me feel even an ounce of sadness or shed one tear and I feel a lot of sadness and have shed plenty of tears.  

I think that I agree with you on this being a really good example of queer couples. They’re normal and just like everyone else. Achilles and Patroclus had a relationship that grew from friendship, which mirrors a lot of queer relationships since you never know if the other is queer and then you bond over being queer and boom. It happens. Then, the monogamy was touching since one of the common, perhaps more modern, idea of being gay is that they sleep around and have tons of sex partners. I know that stems from the HIV/AIDS crisis but it perpetuates to this day. Their love for each other was just like any other relationship. There were old grievances that they had for each other, just like any couple who’s been together for a while. But, they continued loving one another and stayed together.

Really, I am still amazed at how well she wove their relationship into the story most people know without it feeling like the queerness was forced in. That was probably my biggest worry with this book.

This book for me contains some of the best queer rep I’ve read and there are none of the labels we use now. The characters are very much independent of their sexuality, and it normalizes their relationship which is what I hope the future of queer rep becomes. Yes, labels are important to some, but it’s also about being seen as normal. Their relationship is very normal. They are not perfect characters at all. They are very flawed. Everything seems natural and realistic and there is no need to make a big deal about the fact that they are two men in a relationship. It just is. They are not stereotypical characters, in fact, they are characters we’ve probably heard of if we know anything about the Trojan War. It was just refreshing to read a book with queer main characters that was represented well.

I have to agree with you on your first part. This is some of the best queer rep I’ve read as well. Most queer books hit you over the head with a very heavy cast iron skillet with the fact that they’re queer. I recently read in an article on gay Jews (it’s for a class, for those who don’t know) who talked about going into a Reform Jewish synagogue (that’s the most left-leaning of Jewish sects) and feeling like the way they had to state their tolerance over and over again made the space intolerant. It’s like that. I never felt like I was smacked around with their gay relationship. It’s why I don’t like reading LGBT+ fiction. I hate it when it’s a huge deal that they’re queer. Great. Good for them. Many people are queer. Now, give me an actual story. And this paired their queerness naturally with the story AND made more sense of why the hell Achilles freaked out like he did when (spoiler) Patroclus dies. If you yell at me for spoiling a story that’s over a thousand years old, you’re gone.

I think it’s important to point out that those books are still important, but personally I prefer reading about queer characters that are normalized and don’t have to shout at the top of their lungs that they are queer. I’ve read a few books like this, but this is also coming from someone who doesn’t care much about labels. So, my opinion comes with a grain of salt. The relationship in the book took a while to develop and it didn’t feel rushed to me. Considering the book spans about a decade of their lives and they are in a relationship for a good chunk of it, I felt like the build-up was just enough. There was definitely a certain irony in Patroclus dying for Achilles’ reputation and once he was dead Achilles stopped giving any fucks. I think it’s what made the story so tragic and what hit me the hardest.

I completely predicted Achilles to lose it since I know the story, but I loved the foreshadowing. Miller is the Queen of that. I mean, I thought I was going to start crying when she went on about how Patroclus would be the death of Achilles and that was why his mother, Thetis, didn’t want him around Achilles. The prophecy predicted Patroclus. Predicted he would die for Achilles in an attempt to kill Hector since so long as Hector lived, Achilles would survive. Then, he failed and Achilles utterly lost it. So, I expected it and caught on very early how everything linked together. However, Achilles not wanting to let Patroclus’ body go slaughtered me.

I know the story of Achilles so I knew it wasn’t going to end well, I mean I’ve seen Troy too. It’s just been a long time, but all I remember was Brad Pitt’s butt and it probably wasn’t even his butt. There was definitely some great foreshadowing and it’s definitely not the happiest story, but when you think about all of the time they did spend together specifically on the mountain it’s not that bad. Yes, I agree that every time Achilles was hugging Patroclus’ body was very heartbreaking. It was even worse knowing that Patroclus hadn’t crossed over yet. Achilles’ mother was definitely a complicated character and it was very hard to like her. I understand why she did what she did, attempting to keep Achilles away from Patroclus because of the prophecy, but I don’t like the ways she went about it.

Google it, yo. Find dat ass.

Anyways, it was terrible. Even though I think those last few chapters really could have been streamlined into one chapter. I didn’t need that blow by blow that was, admittedly, a bit awkward to read since it was from Patroclus’ perspective yet also not. It was a weird and sudden change that didn’t quite meld with the rest of the book. I actually rather liked Thetis. I would love to hear the story from her perspective. And I do love how it came full circle in the end. Patroclus and Thetis finally saw eye to eye with one another. Although, it was in death.

Eh, I’ve seen better.

I don’t think it helped that I read the majority of this book in one day because I got hit with every heartbreaking thing at once. It wasn’t a fun reading experience, but honestly, I couldn’t put the book down and at a certain point, I knew I didn’t have much left to read so I continued on. I do think that the ending was the weakest part because both Achilles and Patroclus are dead and everything up until the very end wasn’t necessary but I still didn’t mind that much. Yeah, I didn’t like Thetis at all. I know that she’s far more complicated than her actions, but I just couldn’t get behind her. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a parent, but I think she did harmful things and hurt a lot of people. Not to mention, she’s completely defeated at the end and I think she had a hand in those things happening. So, I’m not a fan, but she was definitely an interesting character.

I’m glad we agree that the ending was weak. I mean, it was good, but it could have been better. Then, I think I understood Thetis because I can see my mom doing the same thing. And I’m also pretty parental when it comes to it. So, I don’t know. I knew she was the villain and I don’t think she went about things in the right way, but she was doing what she thought was best.

We spent a bit of time texting each other over Odysseus. Did your opinion of him change at all?

It definitely could’ve been better. I appreciated some of the moments we got after Patroclus had died, but after Achilles died it was unnecessary. Oh, my mom would do whatever she could to protect me. I think the way she raised Achilles’ son was wrong as he turned out to be a psycho, but she had a lot of prejudices against humans and honestly, I don’t blame her. What happened to her was terrible and she has a right to be angry. I think that Miller did a good job of helping us understand her but maybe not rooting for her.

I mean, no not really. I think because I read through it so quickly I didn’t have a lot of time to process characters. I think he was a very slimy character and he came off more villainous to me. I liked him by the end, but he reminded me of a little of Littlefinger from GoT. Putting his fingers in everyone else’s cookie jar and controlling them like puppets. It was a bit much.

Thank you for bringing up Pyrrhus, Achilles’ kid. He was terrible and, basically, how Achilles would have been without Patroclus’ influence on him. He was how I picture the gods, really. A bit psycho. Somewhat seeming they deserve everything automatically. And you can’t do anything to stop them.

Your description of Odysseus as Littlefinger is apt. However, I do like him. Maybe because I really liked the actor who played him in Troy, tbh. (Who also played Ned Stark in GoT.) He really was villainous, but what about how he really tried to get Patroclus and Achilles interred together? That was decent since he knew more than anyone that the two loved one another. Pyrrhus was a lot like most people. Heteronormative while Odysseus understood that there were differences.

That name, tho. I wouldn’t even know how to pronounce it. But yes, he was awful and I do think that he was a good foil. It would’ve been Achilles if he hadn’t grown up with his father and Patroclus. But he didn’t last long and he got what he deserved.

Which is unfortunate because I hate Littlefinger. I do like Sean Bean, though so maybe I should rewatch Troy. Anyway, he had a redeeming moment toward the end, but it wasn’t much compared to everything he had done before. Just like Thetis. There were definitely some comments about Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship and how instead of finding wives they had each other, but I think everyone knew the nature of their relationship and from what we saw Pyrrhus and Thetis were the only ones who had a problem with it. For their own reasons, of course. What are your feelings on Briseis?

Pier-us. That’s how I pronounced it in my head. Achilles probably would have been horrified by his son if he had met him. I mean, what an asshole he helped make. (Although, Achilles really was like that sometimes.)

Yes. You should. We should. But, an aside. Oh, gay relationships were normal in ancient Greek. From what I know, they were a rite of passage. They just typically stopped when you got to a certain age. And the two of them went past the typical age. Thetis seemed to accept it but she wanted it to end so Achilles would live. Everyone else sort of got used to it and this was the norm for them.

I really liked Briseis, but I didn’t like how she spent all those years with them and then suddenly jumped Patroclus. It didn’t exactly make sense to me.

I’ll take your word for it. I’m certain that Achilles wouldn’t have been pleased with who his son became. They never actually met, correct?

Absolutely, but I’d rather have a version that is more similar to the book. I think that’s exactly it, it was normal until a certain age. So, it was normal but unusual in the sense that they continued their relationship into adulthood. It was nice to have everyone accept it even if they thought it was odd.

I did as well. I thought it was great how Patroclus saved her, and that was the foundation for their friendship. I think that her revealing her feelings for him was completely unnecessary. Especially when she knew about his relationship with Achilles. I think in a different book, that relationship would’ve been a romantic one, but he wasn’t forced to be with someone he didn’t love. I thought her story ended tragically too. I didn’t want her to die, but alas. It’s one of those instances where mostly everyone dies. She wasn’t the first woman to jump on Patroclus either, and honestly, I found that scene with Pyrrhus’ mother more unnecessary.

No, I don’t think that they did meet. At least, I don’t remember it happening.

Yeah, the movie did really go off base with things. Maybe one day they’ll make it into a movie. That’d be pretty damn awesome, wouldn’t it? So, it wasn’t a weird thing, just weird that they kept it going. But, really, when you’re in war and all that, there are going to be male-on-male relations in the military. It is. Just a bit different for them.

For me, it was unneeded because Briseis came off as very asexual to me. Maybe that’s because of her attraction to Patroclus alone, maybe it was the trauma of what could have happened to her, maybe it was both. Either way, it was unnecessary. But, I do think that the scene where Patroclus had sex with Achilles’ wife (since that is what she was) was awkward. I could understand the reason it was included for multiple reasons, but it could have been cut out without me missing anything.

I don’t remember either.

Just a little bit. That would be really awesome. There are a lot of movies coming out which are based on LGBTQ+ books so there is definitely hope. It was weird, but not weird. I noticed that there weren’t any other male/male relations explicitly talked about. When it came to war, they all seemed eager to rape women. So, Achilles and Patroclus definitely stuck out.

In the end, she didn’t have sex with anyone, consensually at least, when it seemed that’s what the other women they saved were doing. At least they were getting married. I think she had a love for Patroclus and I thought it was a sweet relationship, but it didn’t need to be romantic or sexual. That was definitely an awkward scene. I saw it as her getting revenge on Achilles and I think Patroclus was curious. I didn’t have a problem with the scene itself, but it stuck out like a sore thumb.

Good on us, Chantel.

Rape is a great tactic of control in wartime. It humiliates the woman’s family, demoralizes the people, and the soldiers see it as a great reward since they get off with it. It dehumanizes the enemy, too. But, I won’t keep going on about rape for our readers. It’s a terrible topic. Achilles and Patroclus did, even if the soldiers joked about them saving all those women from rape. Achilles and his insane appetite for women.

The relationship was better as a platonic one, really, and a very nice one. They were sweet together as friends. Naturally giving and taking. Teaching one another. Finding a way to make their weird family together while their kids went off and married. It was a family. Sort of like Lito, Hernando, and Dani’s in Sense8. Yes, it sort of was. But Achilles’ wife also wanted to feel sexually attractive and that was what she did to get it. Patroclus got caught up in it and it just affirmed he was gay.

I feel like I read it so long ago. That’s why I don’t remember. It’s not as fresh in my mind.

Well, it was also how Achilles was conceived and that explains Thetis’ view of mortals. It might have been a common thing, but it’s definitely a horrible thing. But yes, let’s move on. Yeah, har har, that’s such a funny subject, but I think those close to Achilles and Patroclus knew that wasn’t the case.

Yes, I think that it was a well-done friendship and I thought it was beautiful. I think them going off and having a family would’ve been nice to see and would’ve been a happy ending, but it was clear that Patroclus didn’t think he was leaving alive and he was right. It was sort of like that but Achilles didn’t like Briseis. That’s true. Again, I didn’t hate the scene. I actually like it when characters explore/affirm their sexuality, but it was unnecessary. There were a few things that didn’t need to be there, but overall I think this book is very, very good. I have no issue with giving it five stars.

Can’t help but drop Lito in.

I ain’t mad about that.

Patroclus knew that if Achilles died, he’d kill himself. And Achilles did just that. Kind of a Romeo & Juliet situation. No, Achilles was very aloof by the time they got to Troy. What war will do to people. I still stand by my 4.5-star rating. Overall, I really enjoyed it and happily will round it up for Goodreads, but there were things I didn’t like that didn’t work well.

7 thoughts on “The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

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