Take two lovers, from seemingly different backgrounds, add a disapproving parent, follow the struggles as both lovers not only come to terms with their blossoming relationship, but the hardships of trying to live up to expectation and gain approval for what just seems so natural and right…
Now take one of Greek mythologies most famous sons – Achilles – the great warrior and hero of the Trojan War, immortalised by the Greek poet Homer in the Iliad, but instead of a beautiful maiden, introduce the well speculated affair with his male lover Patroclus, and you have an interesting read in the novel The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller.
With Achilles, the son of a mortal king and demi goddess ‘Thetis’, the legend goes that his mother held him as a baby by the ankle and dipped him in the River Styx so that he would be immortal. Without spoiling anything, as the author does not actually make any reference to this in her novel, and with the notoriety of this mythical story, Achilles interestingly meets his death due to an arrow to his heel, hence the modern term which is now deemed as a point of weakness.
This novel however follows the budding and difficult romance of these two star crossed lovers (sorry for the Romeo and Juliet reference), written with the innocence the teenagers deserve, whilst also incorporating the conflict between Thetis, the bitter and overprotective mother, and her hatred towards her sons lover, Patroclus, for what she deems is not the path that her great and beloved Achilles is meant to travel.
But more importantly, this is not solely a romance novel as the author cleverly sets their relationship against the backdrop of the Trojan War, weaving in the struggles that both men face as young adults on and off the battlefield, as they each accept the responsibilities for allegiance to king, country and each other. Although she only focusses on a few years of the siege of Troy, Miller brings to life the toll that such an event takes on its participants and the sacrifices made for the greater good.
A well thought through novel, it provides an interesting account of our hero Achilles and his not so famous lover – interestingly to note it is thought that Patroclus actually played a major role in the outcome of the Trojan War without much mention – and like all good reads, the ending brings a closure that just for a second makes you evaluate the true meaning of love. There won’t be a sequel, to know more about what comes after the Trojan War you will need to read Homers Odyssey, but it did leave us with a smile on our faces as we walked around humming Whitney’s ‘The Greatest Love of All’.