So I just finished The Song of Achilles. And by “just finished” I mean I finished reading it about five minutes ago.
This novel is a “retelling” of Homer’s Illiad, but it only actually tells the story of The Illiad within the last 100 pages. I read Homer’s work 2 years ago, in my Introduction to Classicism class. At the time, I enjoyed it, and my love grew stronger with time. I love The Illiad, and this novel, perhaps surprisingly, did not disappoint.
The Song of Achilles focuses on the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles, and is told from Patroclus’s point of view. The author chooses to make the homoerotic subtext in Homer’s work explicit, and she does it extremely well. Their relationship develops slowly, and their love is so deep that it becomes easy for the modern reader to understand why Achilles throws away his pride to avenge Patroclus (is this a spoiler if the story is 3000 years old?). Their relationship is tasteful and complimentary, and it’s so refreshing to see a side of Achilles that is often ignored. Plus, reading about queer relationships is always more fun than reading about straight ones. The only other thing I want to say is that the love between Achilles and Patroclus is one of the strongest I have ever felt, and The Song of Achilles turns the Illiad into a great, beautiful, and tragic love story.
The novel can be enjoyed by itself, but I feel like a background in classicism and The Illiad makes it much more enjoyable. Little references pop up from time to time, and the foreshadowing is absolutely delicious. I loved The Song of Achilles, and I found that it really strengthened, and reminded me of, my love for the Illiad, so I highly recommend reading both. The Song of Achilles is extremely easy to read, as it uses modern terms and simple language, so for anyone new to Greek myth and literature, it might be more accessible, but I do recommend reading Homer at some point in your life.
For me, the ending is the most important part of a novel, and The Song of Achilles is a perfect example of why. The ending is completely fulfilling; it is an ending done right. The novel is enjoyable, and great, but ending heightens the entire novel and takes it from “good” to “fantastic.” I love an ending that makes me cry, and this novel did exactly what I expected it not to do: it made me cry. The last chapter or two touched my heart and by the last paragraph (which I had already read several times as I wanted to know where this story ended), I had tears dripping down my face. The simple writing style feels more sophisticated here; it is still simple, but beautifully so. And most importantly, I can feel the emotions between the words, emotions that do not have to be said. It’s beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.
4 out of 5 Greek heroes.