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I’m a little late to the party on this one. It’s been a minute since I read “The Iliad” and I never did see Brad Pitt’s “Troy,” so most of the particulars of the Trojan War have escaped my head. But when I saw all the buzz about Madeline Miller’s debut novel, which revisits the classic tale foiled by the unexplored love story between Achilles and Patroclus, I was curious to have another look.
Achilles is certainly the hero we all know from our Greek mythology readers in high school. We are surely less familiar with the man who was his greatest love, Patroclus. Miller uses “The Illiad,” “The Odyssey” and “The Aeneid” as a solid foundation for her novel, tracing the boyhood friendship of these two young men. Achilles is the son of a goddess and a mortal man, while Patroculus is an exiled young prince, who becomes his closest companion. As they grow older, their friendship slowly morphs into a deeper love, which carries them across kingdoms and ultimately to the city of Troy for a war that will last for a decade and test their resolve as men before they meet their ends.
To be clear, this is not the “gay retelling of the battle of Troy.” There is a love story here which carries us through the novel, but it is told with such emotional honestly and restraint that it doesn’t feel marginalized or at all niche-y. Ms. Miller (who specialized in adapting classical tales for a modern audience at Yale School of Drama) has given us a dramatic, accessible and affecting work, which brings the story of Achilles to light for a new generation. While the origins of this tale are built from Homer’s strong action-based narrative, she is able to fully complement that aspect with rich and layered characters who you will not want to part with in the final pages. Ms. Miller is most assuredly one to watch.
This article also appears on JP’s List.