All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

on June 22, 2022

Circe
Madeline Miller
Bloomsbury
2019, 333p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: 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.

I really loved Madeline Miller’s The Song Of Achilles which it took me probably 4-5 years after buying it to read. I only bought Circe in October of 2021, so when it comes to her next book I definitely got to it much quicker.

I’ve read a few more mythology adaptations since The Song Of Achilles but my knowledge is still pretty rudimentary. Which to be honest, isn’t necessarily a bad thing because I have no preconceived ideas going in, nothing that I feel should or should not be included. Circe is the story of well, Circe, the daughter of Helios, the sun God and Perse, a nymph daughter of Oceanus. Circe is considered by her family and the other various nymphs and gods and the like, to be particularly unattractive and with a voice that is seen as weak and harsh on their ears. She is often alienated and tormented by the siblings that came after her, mostly left to her own devices. She adores her father and constantly follows him or is near him, seeking his approval, but he rarely pays much in the way of attention to her. Circe has several probably more famous relatives: her sister births Ariadne and the Minotaur, her brother is the father of Medea. For her role in witchcraft in which she changes a man she wishes to marry and then the one he chooses instead of her, Circe is banished to an island to live there forever, forbidden to leave in order to avoid a war between the Titans and the Olympians.

It’s been a while since I read The Song Of Achilles but I’ve read a couple of other mythological retellings more recently, all of which include characters that also appeared in this book, albeit in much more minor roles. For example, Circe briefly interacts with her niece Ariade when she goes to Crete to help her sister birth the Minotaur and Odysseus spends a year with Circe on her island. This is written with the same lyrical beauty of Madeline Miller’s first novel and she tells a complex story woven so well, adding her own twist on Circe’s childhood, her banishment for her practice of witchcraft and how she spends years on her island, honing her skills. I particularly enjoyed the method Circe developed of dealing with sailors who came to her island, enjoyed her hospitality and upon realising she was alone, thought they’d help themselves to more than just that. It’s a small way in which she can have power, even though it comes from an event where she is rendered powerless.

I have an almost non-existent knowledge of Greek mythology and it honestly really doesn’t matter. The book gives enough explanation in the background of the characters as well as some sketching in about the Titans and the Olympians and anything you don’t know, can be easily discovered by doing a little searching. For me, the strength in these books is just….the actual experience of the characters themselves. Reading about Circe from her perspective, and even though a lot of her experiences are shaped and dominated by men (her father, Zeus, Prometheus, Hermes, Odysseus, etc) this is still a female experience, seen through a female gaze and a lot of Circe’s journey is her finding a way to grasp her own agency and break the shackles that have been placed upon her. It’s not a quick or easy process and there’s plenty that happens in her life along the way that it’s easy to find a bit frustrating but watching Circe start to understand her power and use it, especially to protect her son in the future, ends up being an incredibly powerful experience.

I really loved this – it’s rich and engrossing and so easy to read, even if you don’t have the background knowledge, like me! It makes me want to read other mythological retellings (next up will be Elektra by Jennifer Saint, which is a pretty anticipated release for me) and I can’t wait to see what Madeline Miller chooses to tackle next because her books are just phenomenal.

If you loved Song of Achilles or Ariadne or The Penelopiad or the Pat Barker Women Of Troy duology, you’ll love this as well.

9/10

Book #98 of 2022

This is book #31 of the 2022 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Marg @ The Intrepid Reader

This is also book #6 of my 22 in 2022 Challenge (which I am really trying to get back on track with).


One response to “Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

  1. Marg says:

    I still haven’t read Song of Achilles, but I loved this one!

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