Book Rec of the Month: The Song of Achilles

Book+Rec+of+the+Month%3A+The+Song+of+Achilles

Jem Hanan '23

Recently, I’ve noticed that there has been an uptick in retellings of Greek mythology in the Young Adult genre of literature. Although I am not anywhere near qualified to make bold statements about the climate of young adult novels, I’d like to believe the book The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller started this trend. I’d be surprised if you haven’t seen its cover on the subway or have heard the name thrown around, usually in conjunction with the words “I cried for a week.” I was skeptical. Many times the Young Adult reader community hypes up a new title only for it to be derivative and painfully mediocre. The Song of Achilles is unique in the sense that it defies this prenotion.

Of course, retellings of Greek myths aren’t anything new, and Miller is not a pioneer in the space; however, she took a common practice and executed it extremely well. Her novel surrounds the story of Achilles and his relationship with Patroclus, his lover. She uses the ambiguity of said relationship as it is presented in The Iliad, a classic Greek work of literature by Homer so that it appeals to the general Young Adult audience. As a whole, Miller does an excellent job of allowing the novel to be read by virtually anyone regardless of how much knowledge of Greek mythology they have in their toolbelt. If anything, the easy consumability of the novel is likely to inspire you to learn more about Greek mythology and visit the source material (at least, that’s what it did for me). Yes, the names are a bit difficult to follow at first, but Miller establishes each character so well that by the middle of the story you know each member of the cast not by name, but by their personalities. Additionally, the establishment of Patroclus as the main viewpoint allows for an organic exposure to the reader of the information they need to know. In The Iliad, Patroclus is a side character in Achilles’ story for all intents and purposes. With Patroclus as the main character, he is the vehicle in which the average reader can explore the world of Greek mythology since Patroclus is new to many of the environments he is placed in due to the nature of his char acter. These aspects of the novel make it very easy for anybody to pick up and enjoy. 

The other standout quality of the novel is the brilliance of the writing. You will find yourself having to stop reading just to take a moment to appreciate the beauty of a sentence. Miller is able to describe even the most mundane aspects of the world in a way that is breathtaking. This stunning descriptive language carries over into the way the dialogue, scenery, and action are written. The only way to describe it is… well, pretty. Miller sets a specific tone for the novel and maintains it throughout with metaphors and similes that never feel shoehorned into it. The truly masterful part of Miller’s writing is that the reader can tell that it comes naturally to her, as the writing itself has an organic feel to it. 

I highly suggest reading The Song of Achilles if you want to indulge in a classic story with a bit of a modern twist and view the world around you in a more beautiful lense.