I was finally caught up with my reviews at the end of March, and then everything went to hell. I spent a week in Paris (yay!) but came home to what I thought was a simple but nasty case of jetlag + airplane cold but which turned out to be . . . THE FLU. And let me just say that jetlag and three days of crazy-loud home repairs and several days of high fever/chills/aches/lungs-filled-with-pure-evil are not conducive to being productive. Moral of the story: get your flu shot, kids.
I finished Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles five weeks ago, and though I was initially ready to rave, my opinion quickly faded and settled into something more like mild appreciation. Miller’s book is a retelling of Homer’s Iliad, focusing on Achilles and his constant companion Patroclus, reframing their relationship as romantic while telling the story from Patroclus’ point of view. The disappointing son of a minor Greek king, Patroclus accidentally kills his worst bully, and as punishment, he is stripped of his name and patrimony and banished to another kingdom. There, he meets young Achilles, who befriends him and takes him on as his companion. They grow together as Achilles develops into the prophesied great warrior, and though his goddess mother tries to keep him from joining the Greeks in their war on Troy, Achilles eventually has no choice but to fight, and Patroclus joins him, refusing to leave his side. Of course, the war is not as quick and simple as the Greeks’ nominal leader, Agamemnon, has promised, and it is complicated by in-fighting and miscalculations that put the Greeks on the wrong side of the gods and Achilles in a battle of wills with Agamemnon.
For those who know Homer’s Iliad and the surrounding mythology, this story will be familiar. I wasn’t aware going in that it would make a romantic relationship between Achilles and Patroclus explicit rather than implied or assumed, and I think that added to my enjoyment, allowing me to discover as I read. I was also surprised at the writing, which was far more accessible than I expected, though by the time I was through, I wish it had been more literary and less like a boy-boy YA romance. That’s no dig, just a problem with confounded expectations. It was an exciting read for my 14-year-old side, but my literary fiction snob side was disappointed that the whole thing felt rather lightweight. I also thought it suffered from being narrated by Patroclus. Achilles is a much more complicated figure than this book allowed, since Patroclus was always going to pull his punches. I would have preferred getting inside the head of Achilles himself, but that’s not the book Miller wrote. I appreciated this book for what it was, but it wasn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped.