I had absolutely no intention of staying up until 1:00 am last night reading The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, but that's exactly what I did. I was just reading along, minding my own business, when suddenly I got to the fight between Agamemnon and Achilles, and then, really, how could I stop?
When I read Helen of Troy by Margaret George, I didn't know the story. I had heard of Achilles and some of the other heroes, but the plot of the marriage of Helen and then the siege of Troy was completely new to me. I had heard of Miller's version, but I wasn't sure that I was interested in it. I mean, since I already knew the whole story from George, what could Miller add? Quite a lot, it turns out.
The Song of Achilles focuses on Patroclus, and his relationship with Achilles. To be frank, Miller makes them an openly gay couple. In one sense, it bothered me that Miller felt compelled to take our 21st century values and labels and apply them to these heroes. On the other hand, that's what anyone who writes about Troy and the heroes is doing. Even Homer lived generations after the war. What bothered me though was that by making them a gay couple, the implication is that male friendship would not have been enough to make them risk their lives for each other. Apparently, the nature of their relationship has been debated for centuries, so it isn't so strange that Miller and George disagree.
One thing that I thought was interesting was that when Achilles and Patroclus were both dead (really, that can't be a spoiler), their ashes were mixed together. That also happened with Finn's and Toby's ashes in Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. Is this a gay thing? I've never heard of an old married hetero couple that wanted their ashes mixed after their deaths, and as an estate planning attorney, I talk about ashes more than most people do.
There were a few other ways that Miller's story differed from George's. Miller made Patroclus into more of a home body than a warrior, which I didn't think was fair. I also thought it was interesting that Miller blamed Achilles for extending the war. Achilles knew of a prophesy that he would die after Hector died, and Miller, via Odysseys, accuses Achilles of refusing to engage Hector on the battlefield so as to delay his own death.
After finishing this telling of the story of the Trojan War from Patroclus' point of view, I only want more. What would the story sound like from Hector's point of view? Or from that of Priam's wife, or even Paris? I have The Iliad as one of the books to read for the Off the Shelf Challenge. Now I just have to move it to the top of the pile!
Next up: Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
Still Listening to: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I am really loving this story. All of the reviews that I read talk about how much the reader cried. Now I'm on disc 8 of 12, and the tears haven't started yet.