The Song of Achilles

Madeline Miller, Author
Madeline Miller. Ecco, $25.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-206061-7
Reviewed on: 11/14/2011
Release date: 03/01/2012
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Following in Mary Renault’s footsteps and adding some surefooted steps of her own, Miller debuts with a novel that combines the poetic drama of The Iliad with a 21st-century understanding of war, sex, sexual politics, and Trojan War heroism. Miller’s tale begins with Patroclus’ unhappy childhood as the disappointing son of an ambitious king. Exiled to Phthia, the 10-year-old is befriended by confident Prince Achilles. Over time their friendship blooms into love, while Achilles’ mother, the sea nymph Thetis, grows jealously resentful. Patroclus and Achilles follow Agamemnon to recapture Helen from Troy, but the siege wears heavily on Achilles, who awaits the destiny his mother has foretold and his mentor, the centaur Master Chiron, has forewarned: to become the greatest of Greek warriors. In addition to the central story of Achilles and Patroclus, Miller offers a complex study of Briseis, the trophy beauty who inspires a rift between Achilles and Agamemnon; evokes Iphigenia’s sacrifice at Aulis in one quick, brutal image; and probes relationships Homer only hinted at. With language both evocative of her predecessors and fresh, and through familiar scenes that explore new territory, this first-time novelist masterfully brings to life an imaginative yet informed vision of ancient Greece featuring divinely human gods and larger-than-life mortals. She breaks new ground retelling one of the world’s oldest stories about men in love and war, but it is the extraordinary women—Iphigenia, Briseis, and Thetis—who promise readers remarkable things to come as Miller carves out a custom-made niche in historical fiction. Agent: Barer Literary. (Mar.)
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