the song of achilles


To the long catalog of odd hybrids that inhabit Greek myth — the half-human, half-equine centaurs, the birdlike Harpies with their human faces, the man-eating Scylla with her doglike nether parts — we may now add Madeline Miller’s first novel, “The Song of Achilles.” In it, Miller has taken on an (appropriately) heroic task: to fashion a modern work of literature out of very ancient stories — specifically, the tale of the Greeks at Troy, one of the oldest and most seminal of all legends in the Western tradition. The idea of recasting the Greek classics began with the ancients themselves; Virgil’s “Aeneid” is, in many ways, both a rewriting of and a commentary on the Homeric epics. More recently, it has challenged ambitious writers like Mary Renault, whose 1958 novel “The King Must Die” brilliantly reimagined the Theseus legend as narrated by the hero himself, and David Malouf, whose terrific 2009 novel “Ransom” invents a moving episode toward the end of the “Iliad.” But in the case of Miller, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in classics at Brown, the epic reach exceeds her technical grasp. The result is a book that has the head of a young adult novel, the body of the “Iliad” and the hindquarters of Barbara Cartland.

more from Daniel Mendelsohn at the NY Times here.