The Song of Achilles – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication year: 2011
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: Major character death, murder, violence, slavery, abduction, abandonment, torture, rape (mentioned), human sacrifice, human trafficking, self-harm, child abuse, and war.

Synopsis

A modern retelling of the Greek myth the Trojan War from The Iliad told from the perspective of Patroclus and Achilles.

What I liked

  • Patroclus’ characterisation
  • Patroclus and Briseis’ relationship
  • Historical elements
  • The depictions of love

What I disliked

  • Writing style
  • Slow pacing
  • The ending

Plot and Structure

Since the book is a retelling of a popular and widely known Greek myth, as expected, the plot and structure is largely based on The Iliad. Madeline Miller definitley put her own spin on it, but the core essence of the story is the same but written for a modern audience and exclusively from the perspectives of Patroclus and Achilles. It’s structured chronologically, beginning with Patroclus’ childhood. It builds his backstory and traces the origins of his relationship with Achilles before progressing to the events of the Trojan War. It includes the major plot points from the original myth but tweaks some things, particularly at the beginning and end. As all retellings should, it takes a popular story and gives new insight. The emphasis on romance was a little excessive for my tastes and I would’ve preferred more plot. This was particularly apparent towards the end where the tragic romance story took front and centre stage.

Whilst I generally enjoyed the plot and most of the changes that were made, it did feel slow throughout. This isn’t necessarily a disavantage, because it allowed space for me to get to know and connect with Patroclus, but there were parts that I found boring, particularly in the first half. Futherore, although Patroclus and Achilles’ perspective brought new insight, it hindered the story in other ways, leaving little room for some other significant characters.

Overall, the book wasn’t very plot-driven and was very focused on setting, themes, characters and relationships. Generally, these are the aspects of books that I enjoy most but there was something that just didn’t quite sync up in the way I expected to, but more about that in the Characters and Relationships section.

Writing Style

I struggled to connect to Miller’s bland and simple writing style. The tone of the writing didn’t match the tone of the story and pulled me away from the story multiple times. Whether it was the use of short sentences, lack of fluidity or plain language, it didn’t sell the story in the right way. It’s an epic tale and Miller portrayed Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship as a tragic love story, yet the writing was just okay. It achieved what it needed to but didn’t evoke the emotion from me that truly great writing usually does. It was clear and concise, but I would’ve liked more flower, this is a retelling of The Iliad afterall.

We were like gods at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.

Characters and Relationships

I liked Patroclus as the main POV Character. His characterisation was standard for the “average guy turned hero” archetype, but his empathy and desire to do the right thing. In a world where power and status was what men most valued, Patroclus defied expectations. He acted out of his conscience, love, loyalty and duty. His compassion offsets Achilles pride and their differences sets the underlining moral message for the entire story. Patroclus was the most defined and nuanced of all the characters. The other characters were in the background, and even Achilles himself suffered from a severe lack of development, feeling more like a caricature than a fully rounded character. This was most likely because most of what we learned about Achilles was from Patroclus’ perspective who had rose-tinted glasses when it came to Achilles.

Leading on from that, this is where the review gets controversial – I didn’t like the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. My issues with this relationship were in part because Achilles was under-developed but also because their love seemed to magically happen despite having nothing in common. It’s particularly unfortunate, because the romance was the main focus of the story and the emotional impact of the ending was very dependent upon how invested the reader is in Achilles and Patroclus’ love.

Interestingly, I was more invested in Patroclus’ relationship with Briseis. It felt more complex, nuanced and sincere, and explored the blurry and complicated lines between platonic and romantic love. It was built on genuine connection, companionship and a liking for one another, none of which Patroclus seemed to have with Achilles to the same extent. Patroclus’ dynamic with Briseis was definitely the most captivating to me of all the character dynamics.

Concluding thoughts

The Song of Achilles has receieved a lot of hype in the book community in recent years and although it has its merit, it didn’t blow me away. Madeline Miller has proven with this book and Circe that she’s able creatively take myths and adapt them for modern audiences, making them accessible and entertaining. By shifting focus to Patroclus and Achilles, Miller was able to add new depth and perspectives to the ancient myth. Whilst I enjoyed reading the book overall, it was lacking in a few areas. The emphasis on the romance was a barrier for me in emotionally connecting to the story because I disliked the way Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship was written. However, I enjoyed the underlying themes around love and pride, and the exploration of different types of human love and bonds. Overall, it had all the ingredients for a 5-star book, but the execution fell short and the overtly cheesy romantic ending left me feeling luke-warm.

I’d recommend The Song of Achilles if:

You’re looking for a romantic, modern retelling of a Greek myth with a gay romance.

Have you read The Song of Achilles or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

The Outsiders – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: S. E. Hinton
Genre: Classic
Publication year: 1967
Audience: 12+
Content warnings: Abuse, neglect, gang violence, bullying, criminal activity, major character death, arson, violence, murder, grief, suicide.

Synopsis

Set in the span of two weeks, The Outsiders, follows 14-year-old Ponyboy Curtis and his friends the “Greasers”. When a gang war breaks out between the “Greasers” and “Socs”, a series of tragic events follow.

What I liked

  • The social commentary
  • Fast paced plot
  • Character development
  • The friendships between the characters
  • The emotional stakes of the story

What I disliked

  • Nothing?

Plot and Structure

As stated in the synopsis, this book is set in a two week period and is structured chronologically. The plot can be best described as a gang war and friendship drama. The main character, Ponyboy and his friends, are part of the Greasers who are enemies with another gang, the Socs. After an altercation takes place between the Greasers and the Socs, a series of dramatic events unfolds with devastating consequences. The gangs are defined by social status and class with the Greasers coming from the working class and the Socs from the middle/upper classes. It’s a fast-paced, relentless plot which keeps building and building, creating high emotional stakes and multiple climaxes. Although I enjoyed the plot and it kept me invested in the overall story, it was the characters, friendships and social commentary which I loved the most.

Writing Style

Since S. E. Hinton was only a young teenager when she wrote this, the writing style is very simple and accessible. It’s a YA book and the writing style is accessible for all age groups and reading levels. I wasn’t in love with the writing style, but it was solid and in-keeping with the overall tone and plot of the story. It wasn’t very descriptive in nature but closely examined the characters’ thoughts and emotions, particularly of Ponyboy as the POV character. But despite the concise writing style, I felt that S. E. Hinton sprinkled in some wonderful quotes and metaphors which tugged on my heart strings. She was also able to convey the complexity of the class issues she was exploring in a beautiful and clear way. Considering just how multi-layered the themes were in this book, they were presented in a relatable and authentic way with little exposition.

It seemed funny to me that the sunset she saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps was the same one. Maybe the two different worlds we lived in weren’t so different. We saw the same sunset.

Characters and Relationships

The characters in this book stole my heart. Reading this for the first time as an adult enabled me to connect with the characters way more than I think I would’ve if I had read it as a teenager. I was able to put into context just how young these boys were and how awful the neglect, abuse and instability they were enduring was. I immediately felt a sense of love, protectiveness and empathy with these boys who were all lost in their own way and looking for a place to belong. I just wanted to give them a big hug!

Most of them are orphans or have absentee/neglectful parents, no positive adult role models and are school drop-outs (except Ponyboy). They’re living in an impoverished neighbourhood where there’s a lack of opportunity, high crime rates and on-going gang feuds. Although the characters are far from perfect, in many ways they’re victims of circumstance making them incredibly sympathetic. Perhaps the saddest part is that they’re aware that the lives they’re living were unfulfilling, miserable and toxic, but they don’t have the tools to break the cycle and choose a different path.

Each character is well-developed, authentic and has a different way of dealing with their situation. Darry sacrifices his own hopes and dreams to elevate those of his younger brothers (Ponyboy in particular); Soda masks his pain with his “free-spirit” attitude and optimism; Dally is apathetic and hardened to a world that he acknowledges is cruel and unfair; Johnny wants things to change but doesn’t know how to change things so goes along with it because the gang is all he has; and Ponyboy actively challenges their lifestyle and plans to escape by succeeding at school and moving out of the neighbourhood.

Ponyboy as a POV character was so insightful and relatable. Despite only being 14 years old, he has wisdom beyond his years and is able to reflect on situations from a fresh perspective. Where his brothers and friends are blinded by their prejudices, he tries to remain open-minded and optimistic even in the most hopeless of times. Seeing the world through his eyes was equal parts hopeful and heartbreaking. Ponyboy is the future and the potential for him to break the cycle feels close yet so far.

Dally, the typical “bad boy” archetype, had me rolling my eyes at the start. I’m not a fan of this archetype at all but S. E. Hinton exectued it so perfectly by creating a flawed, complex and sympathetic character. Dally being a “bad boy” is not just a mask to hide his vulnerability but part of who he is and a reflection of the philosophy he has developed as a result of the hardships he has faced. At no point is his behaviour or attitude justified, but we do get to see other sides to him and to understand his actions and motivations.

Obviously, it goes without saying that I loved the relationships every bit as much as the characters. They’re kids that have had it tough and deserve a chance, but to the rest of the world they’re delinquents and wasters. Nobody sees or hears these kids and nobody cares. It’s heartbreaking to see how little they matter in the wider world and how aware they are of that. For most of them, all they have to live for is each other. Since many concepts of masculinity are synonymous with detachment from emotion and a lack of intimacy with other males, I loved that the characters were sensitive, emotional and deeply connected to each other. These guys love each other and they might not always openly express it, but their devotion to each other is obvious from their actions. The loyalty, compassion and sacrifice that these guys make for each other made me cry…more than once! It’s a prime example of found family trope done right.

Concluding thoughts

The Outsiders both touched my heart and broke my heart. S. E. Hinton’s achievement in writng this at 17 years old cannot be understated. She captured the complexities of life in the wider context of class, inequality, violence and crime so vividly. It gets to the heart of what it is to be forgotten, side-lined and unloved, and through the stories of Ponyboy and the gang, reflects the lives of many young working class boys who are being left behind by society today. The complexity of the characters and their relationships with each other was palapable, and the heart and soul of the story. As the reader, you form a deep attachment to them because you see how little the world cares about them. Despite how short the book is, it’s so tragic, raw and honest that it makes for an unforgettable read and is one of my favourites. The characters will stay with me for the rest of my life and the injustice and the class inequalities that are explored resonated with me so deeply based on my personal experience and the work I do with disadvantaged young people.

I’d recommend The Outsiders if:

You’re looking for a short, face-paced modern YA classic which is full of drama, friendship and emotion, and explores complex themes surrounding social class and masculinity.

Have you read The Outsiders or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

In the Dream House – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Carmen Maria Machado
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir
Publication year: 2019
Audience: 18+
Content warnings: Domestic abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, body shaming, adult/minor relationship, homophobia, biphobia, explicit sexual references, PTSD, trauma.

Synopsis

In this abstract and surreal memoir, the author shares her experience of being in a long-term abusive lesbian relationship. Drawing on themes of domestic abuse, queerness and feminism, Machado seeks to raise awareness of abuse in queer relationships which is often excluded from domestic abuse discourse and activism.

What I liked

  • The audiobook narrated by Carmen Maria Machado
  • Writing style
  • Storytelling techniques
  • The themes that were explored

What I disliked

  • Nothing?

Structure

Structurally this memoir was bizarre, but it really worked for me. It wasn’t presented in a linear way or chronologically but instead in fragmented pieces, almost like a jigsaw. Machado briefly touched upon this fragmented structure in the book itself and I think it was genius. It was refreshing, unique and raw. Psychology has proven that scientifically memory is very unreliable – we forget events, details become distorted and the more often we recall a memory the less accurate it becomes. Choosing to structure the book this way felt authentic in a way few memoirs do because it was an acknowledgment that memory is unreliable and that some incidents of abuse have faded from Machado’s memory or that she cannot recall specific details. It worked because it enabled her to tell her story and stay focused on the central themes of the book without going through a play by play of her life from birth until the present day in a stagnant, stylistcally dry style as many memoirs do.

Themes

The primary theme of this memoir was the abuse Machado endured for years at the hands of her long-term girlfriend framed within the context of queerness and feminism. She included research on domestic abuse in queer relatonships between women accompanied by discussions about the ways in which perceptions of domestic abuse have been shaped by heteronormativity and gender (e.g. domestic abuse = hetreosexual relationship between cis man and cis woman with the man as the abuser and woman as the abused) and how this, unfortunately, often exludes queer relationships from the discourse and research. She did a brilliant job at demonstrating the ways in which the lack of education and awareness of LGBTQ+ topics blinded her (and many others) to the abuse she was experiencing at the time. Her assumption that men were the perpetrators of abuse meant that the possibility of abuse being present in a same gender relationship was unthinkable to her.

In the Dream House served as a metaphor for the illusion of the perfect happily ever after that a lesbian relationship represented for Machado and for many other queer women. Chapter by chapter and piece by piece, she dismantled the dream house, revealing the ugliness that lay within and shattering any preconceptions she may have had prior to entering into this relatonship. Her insight into this experience was fascinating and touched upon the abuse and harm that queer people can inflict other queer people. She pointed out that whilst the LGBTQ+ community exists to protect queer people, sometimes it does not always provide the safe spaces and relationships that are expected.

Writing Style

I adored Machado’s writing style. It was definitely more flowery than I’d typically expect from a memoir, but absolutely stunning. There was a lot of symbolism, metaphors and similies paired with a deeply emotive style. Her writing was eloquent, thought-provoking and sincere. The narrative voice was uniquely hers, which was undoubtedly elevated by the experience of reading the audiobook, and despite the shortness of the book, I felt close to Machado as though I knew and understood her. I also loved that there was a self-awareness throughout with the author explaining or justifying her writing process such as her choice of structure, the unreliability of memory and the effect of trauma throughout time.

I speak into the silence. I toss the stone of my story into a vast crevice; measure the emptiness by its small sound.

Concluding thoughts

In the Dream House was an emotional and harrowing tale of domestic abuse in a queer relationship. Although it wasn’t necessarily enjoyable to read because of the emotional impact of the content, the structure and writing style were uniquely brilliant and captured the essence of the author’s story honestly and authentically. It provides educational value in regards to abuse in the queer community and the necessity for more education on LGBTQ+ relationships. I gained a deeper insight into a topic I was quite unaware of and I deeply connected to Machado’s storytelling style which capture the complexity of the human experience, emotion and memory. Her story, thoughts and arguments were eloquently presented and had a profound impact on me as a reader. Overall, the message from In the Dream House highlights the importance of raising awareness of the complexity of domestic abuse and of including queer people’s voices in the research, discourse and activism.

I’d recommend In the Dream House if:

You’re looking for a unique, thought-provoking, emotional memoir from a queer woman that touches heavily on gender and sexuality, advocates for LGBTQ+ rights and raises awareness of abuse in queer relationships.

Have you read In the Dream House or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

P. S. This is my first new 5-star read of 2021! 🥳

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.