Madeline's Reviews > The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
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May 09, 12

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bookshelves: novels, 2012, library-books, books-about-books, coming-of-age, drag, love-story, mythology, queer, trojan-war, sunday-morning, thieves-like-us
Read from May 08 to 09, 2012, read count: 1

1. Soundtrack: http://youtu.be/O_WLw_0DFQQ

2. Part of me is always looking for more Mary Renault - it is why I have never read the rest of Mary Renault's books (I like to know that they are waiting for me, somewhere, there's a place for us, a time and place for us!) (also, I suspect I have already read the best ones). So I was excited about The Song of Achilles! Especially since it got a really nice write up from one of the few book blogs I actually read. I need to learn not to do this, though.

3. The Song of Achilles isn't a bad novel, or anything: it's a quick read! It's hard to breeze through very bad books, because there is no desire to turn the page, or even (in some instances) finish a sentence. So the fact that I finished this - and not out of spite (I often do this, since there is no piece of literature that cannot be conquered by contempt - except, apparently, Drood) - says something good about the book, I think. "Well, I finished it willingly" is, actually, a significant thing to say about a book or a film.
3a. Especially, speaking even more from my personal tastes and experiences than usual, this is an accomplishment in a work about Achilles. He's a difficult character to relate to.
3b. One of the things I find alienating about works like The Iliad or The Aeneid is that discussions of war often omit anything like a "hey, so killing somebody else - that's kind of weird, right?" conversation. Miller's work doesn't have that problem, because Patroclus is quite uncomfortable with killing other people (until, you know, he has to, or whatever). But articulating that kind of moral discomfort can also cause a problem in a novel based on the Iliad.

4. So, what is the problem with The Song of Achilles? It is sanitized. It is, even, toothless. I don't mean that Miller glosses over rape and murder and the horror of war, or that the cruelty of the politics are handwaved away. I mean that she places them in the blandest, most conventional emotional context. The love story is a very simple one, without the kind of personality conflict that makes relationships tough work and good reading. I mean, Achilles and Patroclus (our narrator) argue . . . a little . . . but they argue about concrete problems, there isn't any internal conflict seeping outward. So they feel half-baked and insipid. I wanted more depth of feeling from this novel, which, after all, takes its premise from an epic poem that has inspired other artists for thousands of years.

5. Elizabeth Cook's novel is more interesting. It's also stranger - more intense - more experimental.
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05/08/2012 page 184
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