Whose story is this ? The title may tell us it is a tribute to Achilles, the great Greek hero of legend, but it is really the story of Patroclus, the finest of Greek men. It is a story of lost parental love, exile, humiliation, resignation, found love, honor, devotion, compassion, loyalty, tenderness, cruelty, grief, retribution, and redemption. It is a story of war and peace and love and loss and life.
Madeline Miller has dissected the story of Achilles and his role in the Trojan War. In doing so, she has brought Patroclus to the center of the story and told us a tale of his relationship with Achilles, the son of Thetis, the demi-goddess sea-nymph and Peleus, the mortal king of Phthia. While Achilles' fate is tied to a prophecy that promises great physical prowess and glory in battle, it also promises a short life. Patroclus knows this and still loves Achilles. He devotes his life to helping Achilles be all that is possible - and here's the rub. Achilles, while a heroic figure with god-like strength, is only human. He suffers great pride and hubris, faults that will be his undoing because they lead to cruelty, vanity, stubborness, and ultimately to recklessness and betrayal of those who love and honor him. And it is then that Patroclus steps forward to save Achilles' honor and pays the ultimate mortal price, putting into action the fulfillment of the prophesy of Achilles' fate. It is left to those who see Patroclus as 'the best of men' to help him rest with the results of the prophesy fulfilled, the Trojan War over, and the ashes of Achilles and Patroclus mingled in the ground outside a crumbled Troy.
I loved this book. I loved the pace of the story. I loved the humanity that Miller gave her characters. I loved the sensitivity with which she handles the complex relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. I love the knowledge of Greek culture and mythology that she brings to the novel. I love the level of research and knowledge of Homer and Vergil that she uses to weave this unique take on the tale of Patroclus and Achilles.
Most of all, I loved the depth of character that she gave to Patroclus. His is a character that I will not soon forget. I cannot wait to see what Madeline Miller brings to the reading world the next time she is published. If she can approach her next book with the same level of research and writing, it will surely be another page-turner. Well done, Ms. Miller!