‘Circe’ by Madeline Miller – Book Review

Blurb from Goodreads

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.

When love drives Circe to cast a dark spell, wrathful Zeus banishes her to the remote island of Aiaia. There she learns to harness her occult craft, drawing strength from nature. But she will not always be alone; many are destined to pass through Circe’s place of exile, entwining their fates with hers. The messenger god, Hermes. The craftsman, Daedalus. A ship bearing a golden fleece. And wily Odysseus, on his epic voyage home.

There is danger for a solitary woman in this world, and Circe’s independence draws the wrath of men and gods alike. To protect what she holds dear, Circe must decide whether she belongs with the deities she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Review

“It was my first lesson. Beneath the smooth, familiar face of things is another that waits to tear the world in two.”

YASSSSSSSS QUEEN!!!!!

You know the fear??? When a book you’re waiting on for what feels like forever is finally released and you’re too nervous to read it because what if you don’t love it as much as the awesomeness that was The Song of Achilles!!!! I had that fear before reading this buuuut…

LET ME ALLAY THOSE FEARS

CIRCE IS FABULOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

MADELINE MILLER IS MY QUEEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And this book is LOVE

I have ADORED Greek mythology since I was a little girl. My local library had a whole series of books featuring different gods, demigods and the mortals they toyed with. AND I LAPPED THEM ALL UP!!!
So this retelling / reimagining of Circe’s story was just like #GOALS!!!

All the characters that popped up from Prometheus to Daedalus to Medea to Odysseus…. Like I FANGIRLED MY BUTT OFF WITH EVERY NEW YET OLD CHARACTER POPPING UP.

And look at this for low key shade at Homer…

“Later, years later, I would hear a song made of our meeting. The boy who sang it was unskilled, missing notes more often than he hit, yet the sweet music of the verses shone through his mangling. I was not surprised by the portrait of myself: the proud witch undone before the hero’s sword, kneeling and begging for mercy. Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.”

YASSSSSS QUEEN!!!! You salt the patriarchy and the singular viewpoint that has been foisted on us since forever.

Anyway this is just so brilliant.
The prose is brilliant.
The plot is brilliant.
The research is brilliant.
The characterisations are brilliant.
The addictive page turning quality of the read is brilliant.
Like I don’t know how else to say it other than BLOODY BRILLIANT!!!

But seriously, I’m in a bit of a quandary with how to rate this and am curious to know what other people think about retellings and reimaginings. Because so much of what Miller put into this book was already out there. She didn’t create new characters, she didn’t really create new storylines (i.e. if you don’t already know these characters such as Daedalus, Telegonus, Medea etc and even perform a simple Wikipedia search on all the characters that will give you their character / personality outline and the brief arc of their life story) but what she did do was weave together all these disjointed myths and stories featuring Circe and breathed a new life into them.

And I don’t know.

Which one is harder?

To come up with your own characters or to rework them in an unexpected way?
Or are both very different skills and should not be compared?
Is Miller simply a very good creator of fan-fiction?
Or is she to be thought of as a gifted storyteller who can make our old favourites come alive in a way that we did not think was possible anymore?

What I loved the most about this book is it made me feel like a child when I read it. And by that I mean I got utterly lost in the story. I got excited. I was captivated by the action, heartbroken by the sadness, moved by the loneliness, outraged by the coldness… I felt every emotion. Circe was brought alive in a most unique manner. Greek mythology lived in a way for me that it had not done since I was a little girl. This book gave me the purest of joy.

And what I have realised since I finished this read and from reading other people’s reviews is that I am actually a massive Greek mythology nerd without realising it. I mean apparently reading and rereading all the Greek stories, dressing up in bed sheets and wearing daisy chain crowns mixed with a little bit of ivy wasn’t everyone else’s childhood experience

COLOUR ME SHOOK!!!!!

And why I wish to rate this book highly is because it feels authentic when you put it beside something like The Odyssey, compare it to Euripides etc. What Miller has done is stayed true to the legends that we know so all of the characters, be they gods, mortals or monsters, that appear in this book all appear in Classical Greek literature alongside the character of Circe. If you know your Greek myths then technically there are next to no plot surprises as to the events that take place in the book.

BUT!!!!

We are given reason.
Motivation.
Feelings.
Outlines of stories are expanded upon.
And therefore this feels like we are reading Circe’s truth. We are reading her life’s saga. And Miller’s aim was to give a voice to this wonderful character who was much maligned by the patriarchal-tinged glasses of the orators of Greek myth and legend of old. And to me she succeeds 100% in that task.

So for me it deserves five stars for both making me feel young again and for feeling like this book can sit comfortably on my bookshelf alongside all my works by Homer, Euripides, Sophocles etc. And for bringing me utter happiness.

This book not only looks beautiful on the outside it is filled with beauty on the inside. Couldn’t really ask for more than that. I mean, people shouldn’t go into it expecting it to be another The Song of Achilles filled with exquisite pain and an excruciatingly beautiful love story that transcends time. This is hella different. It proves that Miller is not a one-trick-pony when it comes to writing a Greek tale. And that’s why I love it. I didn’t want something that felt the same. I wanted different. And this is very different and because of that it’s much more interesting to read.

18 thoughts on “‘Circe’ by Madeline Miller – Book Review

  1. I love this book too! I agree, it still gets 5 stars from me even if Miller didn’t have to come up with the characters and world-building herself. I think that writing from the first person perspective of an immortal goddess is very ambitious, but for me she absolutely nailed Circe’s voice! 😊
    📕MP📚 X

    Like

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