Bookish Discussions

Madeline Miller’s Circe:

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Spoiler free | Rating: 4 out of 5 stars | Read: 20 April – 21 April, 2018

The Song of Achilles review

As soon as this came in the mail, I dropped everything and commenced reading it. I had previously read the Penguin Little Black Classic, ‘Circe and the Cyclops’, in preparation for this, and I’m glad that I did. It set the mood for this novel, and I was able to see how true Miller kept to the events of Homer’s telling. Circe is set ‘in the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans. When Circe is born she 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’ (Bloomsbury).

The fact I read this in two days is a testament to its brilliancy. The setting was whimsical, the atmosphere was magical, and the writing flowed beautifully. I really cannot fault this book. There were no major flaws with the narrative. Circe was, without a doubt, my favourite thing about the novel. I have a thing for witches (I think it’s in my Lancastrian blood), and Circe excelled all my expectations. Her strength was something to be admired, and you couldn’t help but be mesmerised by her characterisation. Miller brought Circe down to our level (she’s a goddess after all), which allowed me to connect to her emotionally. I envied her life (well, to a certain extent): she lived on an isolated island, had only animals for friends, was connected to the natural world, and was a witch! I am extremely jealous.

Despite this seemingly wonderful life, Miller did not forget to violently paint the unromantic side of Circe’s life. Although there were references to other myths throughout, it was the story of one woman’s life. It illuminated what it was like to be a woman in these ages (regardless of if you’re a goddess or not). There was pain and death, love and heartbreak, family drama and backstabbing, lust and desire, and, most importantly, motherhood. Miller took something minute (really, Circe doesn’t play a huge part in The Odyssey) and created something beautiful with it. It was Circe’s desperate attempt to find her place in a man’s world, and although it failed at times, it was endearing to watch her grow. Her character development, albeit subtle, was utterly brilliant.

So, the reason it didn’t get five stars

Whereas the first half was engaging and peaked my interest, it started to plummet in the second half. The thing is, I hate children. If they’re introduced to a story, I’ll probably end up liking it less. I can’t help it; there’s just an intense hatred for children burning deep inside me. They ruin everything, even stories. This, unfortunately, was the case with Circe. Although he didn’t remain a baby for long (literally, time was non-existent in this book), it had its lasting effects. I know this is a stupid thing to get irritated at, but, you know, whereas some people hate love triangles, I hate children. It was endearing to see I was not alone, though. Circe found motherhood a struggle, which I think ameliorated my initial distaste. It wasn’t easy, and that was nice to read.

Overall, Circe was an incredible book. Definitely worth its hype. Miller really knows her stuff, and is not afraid to manipulate her knowledge and bend it to her will. She created this beautiful and moving story out of the tiniest part of myth. She managed to add a deeper meaning to the story, whilst keeping it authentic. I really liked this, and you don’t need any prior knowledge to enjoy it. I would definitely consider picking this up if I were you!

Have you read Circe? What did you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Thanks for reading, Lauren X

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