The Song of Achilles came out over a decade ago and won the prestigious Orange Prize, but it’s been having a moment of late due to social media. The novel is a retelling of the events of The Iliad from the perspective of Patroclus, an exiled prince and the friend/companion/lover of the great warrior Achilles. The two grow up together, train together, and reluctantly go off to war together. Patroclus finds his love for Achilles tested by the latter’s behavior during the war and his relentless need for fame, glory, and honor.
I thought this would be a literary retelling of the story and frankly, as someone not all that well-versed on the Greeks I found that appealing. What I got instead was a cliched teen romance plot grafted onto a half-hearted recap of Homer. And look, if YA teen romance fan-fiction is your thing all power to you, it’s just not what I was looking for. I suppose that’s on me. I’ll be sure to double-check the next time I think about buying a novel that’s popular on #BookTok.
Even then, my principal objection to The Song of Achilles isn’t really the plot, it’s the writing. Miller can write page after page of flat, lifeless prose which is only interrupted by her bizarre, obscure word choices. The love scenes between Achilles and Patroclus are ineptly written, full of absurd euphemisms and obfuscations. I suppose Miller thinks it’s more artistic not to say what you mean, but it’s just annoying.
I will give The Song of Achilles credit for one thing though: it kind of made me want to read The Iliad.