review: circe

13 August 2020

 35959740. sy475

 book info:

on sale: now
copy from: epub
pages: 393
review written: 13.8.20
originally published: 2018
edition read: Little, Brown and Company

title: Circe
author: Madeline Miller

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.


After over a year of trying to read books and losing interest, I decided to finally sit down and read Madeline Miller's second book, Circe. Her first, The Song of Achilles, is a frequent re-read from my bookshelf. I'm so in love with the storytelling and characters that I just cannot get over the fact that all I have is one book when I wish it would be seven. The Iliad, my favorite classical work, tells the story of those two main characters amongst a host of other heroes and side characters so I can understand why the book was short as well if it were to stay true to Greek mythology. Now, all I know of Circe is from what was written in The Odyssey, a work I read in my high school English class. I put off reading this for so long because her character in the Odyssey was just one among so many and I even confused her for Calypso. I'll tell you this now - Circe is not the Circe you're probably familiar with. I love how Madeline Miller took from many sources to piece together a relatable and human story of the famous witch beyond what we know of her as the witch that transforms men into pigs.

I read every chapter anticipating Odysseus but I soon forgot about him and got lost in the tales of Circe's other encounters, her upbringing, her relationships, her motivations, her desires...and I found that she was a feminist hero that I didn't expect to find in classical literature. Women in Greek mythology are often weak, sex objects, jealous, angry, and foolish except for the one or two rare exceptions. Circe as I remember from my class also embodied many of these traits. However, Miller takes us deeper into our preconcieved notions. She pains Circe's foolishness almost as a virtue, one that makes her love humans and hate gods. It was refreshing to see Circe not as a tormented and lonely witch, but as a powerful and independent, fierce and brave. She even openly discusses how nymphs are treated as sex "jelly" to be "fucked" and rebels against this world that makes it so. Her hatred and open defiance to a system that so actively worked against the innocent and the female is so relatable in today's world. I find it remarkable how Miller takes these stories of old, maintains their antiquity, yet tells them in a way so relatable to readers today. I often read "versions" of Greek mythology that are modernized, that paint Greek gods and heroes in a different way than they are originally represented. Miller keeps true to historic writings are much as she can and it gives a sense of authenticity as I read, like Miller was actually writing closer to Homer's time than today. 

For those who are into Greek mythology, as I grew up reading picture books of them before grade school and made my way through Edith's Mythology in 3rd grade, you'll find Miller's poetic, lush, and illustrative storytelling to be rich with small references to other tales of Greek mythology. Finding each one and recognizing them is like discovering a hidden gem. For those that don't necessarily read too much mythology, you'll still be able to follow the story and enjoy it as it's truly well written.

I think the downsides of the book can only be attributed to Circe's story itself where, for most of it, she's trapped on her island. However, Miller keeps up the pace of the plot so the only way we know the passing of time is through snippets here and there that reveal it so.

As I revel in my post-reading mood, I find myself really wondering about my own place in the universe and I'm sure we've all felt loneliness and confusion about our fate as Circe has. The difference is, she's an immortal and we're all mortals here. The way she thought about the world was different than her other character Achilles, a demigod doomed to die early in life. It was interesting to reflect on my own life, which I think is the mark of a great writer. It's not just telling stories, but telling it in a way that the reader can reflect upon themselves. I've always known I would be just a speck of dirt amongst others. All things come, all things go. Fame was never for me. Did Achilles, if he ever existed, ever wonder how his name would be remembered forever? Actors and actresses of the 1800s are forgotten. Celebrities are short-lived. Only the greatest live in name, real or fictional. 

I may be unfair in my rating, which I disclose is out of 6 umbrellas. I dock 1 because of the sometimes slow moving of the story and also because, after I finished reading, I looked up Circe's story to see how it ended according to original texts that describe her. The ending in Miller's book is less harsh than the "real" ending but it left me feeling happier than the kind of ending in "The Song of Achilles" which I knew would come (as a fan of the Iliad, I dreaded the ending from the very first page). I'm glad Miller wrote her version as I prefer it to what original texts described but somehow, I feel that for Circe's life and story, the ending almost seemed out of place? Circe faced a lot of shit in her life but it was mostly peaceful whereas my heart was torn every other chapter of The Song of Achilles. I know Miller spent 10 years writing that book and probably spent less time writing this one, and it's probably unfair of me to compare the two works, but I can't help it. My ratings are my own.

Therefore, this book gets 5/6 umbrellas :) It's basically as good as a 5 star ratings since 6 umbrellas indicates it's one of top favorite books ever like perfection

Note: I feel that I need to clarify my rating system since I notice I only did so when I first introduced the system a long time ago. Maybe I'll add a graphic on the sidebar? Let me know!

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