Few books reduce me to tears! But on the train home from London reading The Song of Achilles, I was reduced to a sobbing mess!
Miller’s tale of Achilles and Patroclus is an exploration of friendship and love in the time of heroes. Achilles the perfect son and Prince, Patroclus exiled from his own kingdom, becoming the Greek hero’s companion and then lover. They grow up together learning the ways of love and majesty, but when news reaches them of Helen of Sparta’s kidnap, Achilles must go to war and Patroclus torn between fear and love for his prince, must go with him. The years they spend amongst the horrors of fighting, tests all they hold dear.
It is a deeply moving story narrated from the viewpoint of Patroclus and at its very core it’s a tale about love, sacrifice and devotion. Patroclus as a character managed to seep deep into my soul and his passion for Achilles left me yearning for their love to win through. But it is a bond threatened by war and the whims of the gods.
It’s been a while since I read The Song of Achilles, the overwhelming rush of emotion when I did was so raw, and I’m almost scared to revisit the book. When I recently read the last few lines I could still feel that overwhelming feeling of emotion flood right through me.
Achilles is a flawed and troubled character in Miller’s book and her decision to tell the story from Patroclus point of view is an act of genius. In him we have a man fated to live always in the shadows of the better known Achilles, but in this book he shines. His love for his childhood friend, gives us a hero who is flawed, but who is worthy of the love of a man who would never choose willingly to leave his side.
“I will never leave him. It will be this, always, for as long as he will let me.”
Patroclus knows Achilles is flawed, caught up in his own notions of honour, but who at the same time, suffers from the troubled insecurities of the ‘hero’ he is meant to be. Despite Achilles human frailties, his selfishness, Miller through Patroclus shows us why he loves him so much. It is because Patroclus can see through the image of the hero, the son of a king and a goddess, to the man underneath the armour, that we too can love him.
The Song of Achilles will always feature in my top ten books of all time. It has a place in my heart, along with books like Jane Eyre. It is proof positive that books are my ultimate cwtches.