I came across The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller in one of the most romantic ways one can find a story. I was digging through a pile of used books at my local library when my hand gravitated toward its brilliant teal and glistening gold cover.
I was intrigued by the fact that it had won the Orange Prize, an annual award celebrating women's writing from throughout the world. Then I noticed I'd inadvertently gotten my hands on a signed copy. Instant buy. The moment I got home, I started reading.
The Song of Achilles is a retelling of many of the events in The Iliad, with an emphasis on the relationship between Achilles and his friend Patroclus. It's about masculinity, fulfilling one's destiny, and what it means to be a true warrior--but it's also about lifelong friendship, forbidden love, heartache, and sacrifice. It is, perhaps, the most epic romance I've ever read.
I don't remember when in my reading, exactly, that I realized it was my favorite book. I just remember being blown away by the beautiful sentences, all the while turning the pages frantically, needing to know what happened next.
That is because Madeline Miller has a very unique skill, one that I haven't seen many other authors wield as deftly as she does here in her debut: she has managed to write a commercial story with a stunning literary voice. The plot is action-packed; the love story is juicy, almost soapy; and every character is larger than life. But the narration is masterful, the intimate moments are exceptionally poignant, and the angle of the story is fresh and intelligent. Even though most readers will know how it all ends for Achilles and Patroclus, it feels as if Miller is breaking new ground.
The book made me question my own assumptions about love and war, and it sparked an interest in Greek gods and heroes that I did not know I had. When I was done, I closed the cover and let the story sink in. And then I went right to the bookstore and bought Edith Hamilton's Mythology and Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad. I checked out the work of Mary Renault. I reread The Iliad and The Odyssey. I threw myself into Ancient Greece.
I've always thought that a good book should be either the entry point inward, to learn about yourself, or a door outward, to open you up to new worlds. With The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller gave me both.
Taylor Jenkins Reid is the author of the novel One True Loves.
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