Songs of Praise for The Song of Achilles

Zoey snoozing beside the book

A few years ago, I was at a Memorial Day party and one of the guests recommended Madeline Miller's Circe to me with such enthusiasm that, had I not known better, I would have thought he worked on her publicity team. At the end of that weekend, on my journey home, I stopped at an indie bookstore and there was Circe. I bought it and read it and loved it.

Becoming a Fan

I was only partway through Circe when I started learning more about the author. I knew before I finished Miller's second book that I would want to read her first, and any subsequent books she might write and publish.

When I got my hands on The Song of Achilles, I was excited to read it. I thought it would be a retelling of the Trojan War. That war has always piqued my interest, which grew stronger after I visited the site of Troy in 2009.

Troy, photographed in 2009

I was eager to dive back into the ancient world with Miller, to lap up her lyrical prose, to feel heartache and victory alongside her round and dynamic characters, to become an even bigger fan of her literary prowess than I already was.

All of this happened of course, but there was more. The story surprised me. Not in the way Miller weaves history and myth into a flawless tapestry, but in the way characters like Achilles and Patroclus come to life and become first her own, and then the reader's own embodiment. I was surprised that the story wasn't really about the Trojan War at all, but about themes that are as relevant now as they would have been, might have been, to the people who endured that conflict thousands of years ago.

The Song of Achilles is a book I place on one of the tallest proverbial pedestals for its literary merit and beauty. I could not put this book down. I'm a slow reader, so when I tear through a book like I did with this novel, it's usually a sign that it will become one of my favorites.

I know this isn't the newest book around, and you may have even read reviews and recommendations about this novel before. But I think it's worth continuing to mention Miller's skill and talent, and the way they combine in her works of historical fiction.

I loved this book, and learned so much from it as a writer while enjoying it as a reader. The more I study writing, the more difficult that can sometimes be, enjoying both sides of that coin. Maybe it's my own preference for historical fiction. Maybe it's that Miller's novels have taken place in eras I've studied. Maybe it's because Miller is a down-to-earth, approachable author. Maybe it is all three of these things, or perhaps it's something more:

A spark that jumps off the page into the reader's imagination, into the reader's heart, whisking them away to a place where they can learn more about their own humanity.

For all of these reasons, if you've not read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, it's high time you get a copy (from your local indie bookstore if possible) and start reading.

Did you read The Song of Achilles? What'd you think of it? Share in comments or when you share this post on social media.

© 2020 by Margaret McNellis