Madeline Miller: The Song of Achilles

miller_2234648bA long time ago my dad gave me this huge, dark blue book and said: „You’re too old to listen to stories, you need to read them yourself.“ The book was heavy, with columns of text about gods, demigods, heroes and anti-heroes. There was something to be learned from all those stories, I could tell. But there was no excitement in it. The heroes were heroic, the gods were moody, and everything seemed bereft of humanity and reality. I was told mythology was supposed to be that way. Madeline Miller begs to differ.
The Song of Achilles was a reluctant choice, but one which I will never regret. The way a book about demigods, great kings and warriors manages to describe humanity and the essence of everything that we are is breath-taking. There is no perfect being in this book. Nobody is perfectly good, or perfectly evil. There are no sides to be taken. You just want something to happen because you care, not because you think it is right. There is only interpretation, relativity and emotion.
A silly theory of mine comes to mind. I always thought that women writers were less prone to excess. I don’t know why, maybe because since the dawn of time we had to apologize for being able to do something as good as or better than men. But my theory comes to life in the style of Madeline Miller. She does not flaunt around, she cares not for impressing the reader with big words and linguistic games. She simply pours her heart out in an unpretentious and poetic way. From page one, her words wrap around your heart, giving comfort and warmth. Even though you are aware of the impending doom of the characters she’s making you love, you cannot stop yourself from feeling the poetry, from feeling the beauty. And you let yourself go. You forget about how the story ends, you live in the sentence you are reading, not caring about what comes next. And suddenly, you realize those words that once warmed your heart are squeezing tighter and tighter, until it’s too late and your heart is irrevocably broken. Broken by a story everybody knows. Broken by a story you’ve known since you were a child.
It takes a genius to refresh a story as old as civilization by using nothing but your talent to weave beautiful sentences and the sense of what it means to be human.