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  • Writer's pictureA. Murphy

The Song of Achilles: Nah

Updated: May 19, 2020

I've decided to do a weekly book review. Hopefully this will make me read more as I've stopped doing so much (I used to read a ridiculous amount). However the review could be about books, films, tv shows, basically anything I want to bother others about.

I shall choose either Yah or Nah depending on whether I liked it or not. Occasionally there will be a Meh, because I can't decide.

Content Warning: contains mentions of sex, rape, murder, and many other horrible things. Also spoilers.

Now on to The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Nah. Everything I heard about it made it sound fantastic. Every review I looked at was full of people gushing about it, it was the winner of The Orange Prize 2012 for crying out loud. I was really excited to read it. In fact I asked my dad to get for me for my birthday. I settled myself down for an emotional rollercoaster.

The plot is thus. Patroclus, a very awkward and all around kind of useless young prince is exiled from his home. He becomes one of the many wards of King Peleus and his demigod son, Achilles. The two become unlikely friends, much to Thetis' (aka Achilles' mother) displeasure. The two eventually become more than friends are consider themselves bound to each other, going everywhere together including the mountains to be trained by the centaur Chiron. When Helen of Sparta is kidnapped and taken to the city of Troy Achilles is summoned to fight in the inevitable war. I assume people are familiar with the War of Troy so I won't go into detail. Patroclus accompanies Achilles neither knowing the terrible fate that awaits them.

Straight away I'm going to say that I didn't finish the book. I couldn't. It got to a certain point where reading it became like a chore. Many tell me that because I didn't finish the book I can't review it. Okay, I understand that but doesn't the fact that I couldn't finish it speak to the quality of the story?

Now I know people love it but I couldn't, I just couldn't. I knew of the story of these two, or at least the gist of it, and I knew that they were a couple so I was ready for the inevitable tragic love story that would ensue. Technically it did ensue but I didn't feel emotionally attached to it. Though it's exciting to have LGBT+ representation let alone a whole story about a gay relationship, it Patroclus sees Achilles and pretty much falls head over heels for him there and then. I'm sorry but that's just not how love works. Also I know that Achilles is a demigod but he is so perfect that I cannot relate to him at all. At one point Miller tries to give him a flaw by saying he is too trusting. Great. A single flaw that never really causes too big of a problem.

I had many questions that were not answered. All I had learnt of ancient Greece told me that gay relationships were not an uncommon thing and they weren't prosecuted for homosexuality either. So why did Patroclus and Achilles feel like they needed to hide their relationship? Not to mention both of them had sex with women after realising that they were gay? Voluntarily too as far as I can tell. Especially Patroclus. Also Achilles actually gets married to a princess and then sires a child with her. Then he leaves and she is sent away so no one finds out she's pregnant. This is something Achilles fails to bring up when he becomes engaged to another woman. The wedding doesn't actually happen but still it's an important detail I feel should be mentioned.

It wasn't all bad though. I liked that Patroclus wanted to become a doctor, Thetis (Achilles' mother) was sort of a cool character, and the fact that Patroclus decided to call himself Chironides (which translates to Son of Chiron) was nice. It truly demonstrated that Chiron was more of father to him than any other man. Patroclus himself was first. The reason he is exiled in the first place is because he accidentally kills another boy. It is definitely and totally accident which at first Patroclus is haunted by. But then he just forgets? Dude you killed someone, I feel like this should affect you more as a supposedly good person. If he was Hannibal Lecter I would understand but Miller tries to portray Patroclus as a sensitive guy.

Obviously other people liked it or it wouldn't have been the winner of The Orange Prize. I kept reading hoping something would snare me. Apparently the ending was unbelievably sad and I held onto that as I continued to read, but I just couldn't do it anymore.

This brings me to the one thing that really annoyed me, reaching the point where I had to put the book down and just walk away from it. The women. Was there a law or something that meant they all had to have terrible things happen to them? I understand it was ancient Greece, but seriously? Not one woman who isn't raped, married off, sacrificed, enslaved, or abandoned by the man who got her pregnant. Does Miller hate her own gender do much? Even Thetis, who is a literal goddess, gets raped which results in Achilles and it's all treated as if that's totally fine! Pardon my language but what the fuck?

I'm guessing by now you've noticed that I don't like this book. I was trying really hard to find good things about it that I enjoyed but nothing came to mind. It is up to you if you want to read it but I don't have anything that nice to say.

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