So here’s the thing. I’m permanently scarred by Wolfgang Petersen. We all remember the first trailer for Troy, don’t we? More specifically, everyone remembers the final shot of that trailer, the seemingly endless pull back revealing more and more ships sailing for Troy. And then the film was a giant steaming pile of crap. So when I read about this book, the idea of it (the legend of Achilles, retold in modern prose) was that trailer shot. And I was so loath to read it, in case it ended up being, well, Troy.
I need not have worried. The Song of Achilles is told in the first person by Patroclus, who is exiled to Achilles’ father’s kingdom after killing another boy by accident. He admires Achilles from afar until a friendship begins. The friendship deepens into a love affair and after a few blissfully happy years, as we all know, Paris kidnaps Helen and starts A Really Big War.
Since Miller rightly assumes we all know how that war ends, the actual battles that take place are barely mentioned. The focus is firmly on the fallout of it, along with the effect it has on Patroclus and Achilles. It is absolutely wondrous. The language is blunt, straightforward yet somehow so evocative. The unwavering loyalty between the two boys, as they become men, is gorgeously told. The ending we all know is coming still breaks your heart. This was the perfect antidote to Petersen’s travesty. Delightful.