Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller | Mythology is Gay AF, My Friends

Date Read: April 16 to 19, 2018
First Published: 2011
Adult, Mythology
Greece in the age of Heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is nobody, just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles.
Achilles, ‘best of all the Greeks', is everything Patroclus is not — strong, beautiful, the child of a goddess — and by all rights their paths should never cross. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing and soon their tentative companionship gives way to a steadfast friendship. As they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper — despite the displeasure of Achilles's mother Thetis, a cruel and deathly pale sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.
Fate is never far from the heels of Achilles. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate.
Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.
So, here is the thing about putting expectations on a book. Sometimes, it works out great. But for the most part, it doesn't. Unfortunately, this case is of the latter. Look, I'm not going to say this is a bad book, because it's not. So no need to fight me to the death on this one.

But be that as it may... I felt disappointed. It simply wasn't the life-altering experience I was let to believe I would have, and in some cases, it wasn't what I wanted it to be at all. I wholeheartedly, unabashedly blame Tumblr. I have seen so many Patroclus and Achilles posts, usually in connection to some of my all-time favorite couples (Pynch, Andriel, and Evak, for example), that I have already decided I am going to fall in love with Patroclus and Achilles and their story before I opened the first page.

And I did... but I didn't. You see, the thing I loved most about those other couples was how long we spent watching the two become what they are. We watched them become friends, we watched them react to each other and with each other, and by the time they were together, we didn't need words or confirmations of love because we knew it in our bones. There was no doubt, no questioning, that they were meant for each other--forever and always. We were shown, not told. That's the kind of storytelling that I love.

In THE SONG OF ACHILLES, things were different. I felt like I was told of everything, instead of being shown and drawing my own conclusion. I was told "after that, they were best friends". I was told that they "talked about this, and this, and this". But I didn't actually get to see these interactions happen. I didn't get to see them as best friends, inseparable companions. I felt like I was robbed of many of their conversations and interactions - scenes that would make me feel their friendship and love and fully believe in it. Instead, I was simply told that they happened and was expected to understand that their strong love grew from these mysterious, shared memories that I wasn't privy to.

Now, it's not that I didn't believe their love, or that I didn't cry there at the end, because I DID. Not gonna lie. It's just that I felt like it could have been told in a better way.

But enough about that. Let's talk about things I loved. For example, the way Achilles was fiercely protective of their relationship and adamant that no one will take it from them. It's 2018 and still, for some incomprehensible reason, gay relationships are not accepted everywhere--and this story takes place in Ancient Greece. Got to love a hero who isn't afraid to love, until death and beyond. And while I'm still a bit skeptical that no one seemed to care about this illicit relationship, I was so there for mutual love and support!

I general, I think the lasting and unshakable relationship between Patroclus and Achilles is the strongest part of this novel. No matter what or who comes in their way, these two will be together. Protecting each other and understanding each other.

That being said, there was a lot of things I wanted to see outside of this relationship. Like Patroclus becoming a valuable part of this war, and perhaps understanding his own worth a bit better. There was precious little of this, and I wanted to see (NOT BE TOLD) of people appreciating his medical abilities and his kind nature. I also wanted to see him interacting with more people in general.

Especially since I knew this story will not get a happy ending. Not with Achilles as one of the main characters. So, at the very least, I wanted my heroes to be happier throughout it. Though I have to admit, some of my trepidation about reading a novel that could only end in tragedy was lessened by the characters aware of their own fate. It would have been so much more difficult to know what is to come while they rushed at it blindly.

And finally, the writing. I have seen people praise it to mars and back, totally enamored with Miller's style and composition. I am, unfortunately, not one of those folks. While I did find Miller's style to be beautiful at times, I mostly felt like it was too damn much. Too flowery or trying too much, to the point that I would literally cringe. I'm kind of sad to be alone in this because it seems like everyone loves it so damned much, but I could not get used to sentences like;
"One by one, Achilles caught the remaining fruits, returned them to the table with a performer’s flourish. Except for the last, which he ate, the dark flesh parting to pink seeds under his teeth. The fruit was perfectly ripe, the juice brimming. Without thinking, I brought the one he had thrown me to my lips. Its burst of grainy sweetness filled my mouth; the skin was downy on my tongue."
I kissed his neck, the span of his chest, and tasted the salt. He seemed to swell beneath my touch, to ripen. He smelled like almonds and earth. He pressed against me, crushing my lips to wine.
Like... why? Why take such a long time describing figs in such a cringe-worthy way? And I didn't need to know Achilles "ripened", thank you very much. I'm okay with the good ol' "hardened". This writing literally made the coming together of two characters I loved feel awkward, overly done and weird. And can someone please explain to me what some of this even means? "Crushing my lips to wine"???

I can't even.

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