Circe – Madeline Miller

About the Book

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

394 pages (hardcover)
Published on April 10, 2018
Author’s website
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This was a library loan. Yay libraries!

Circe was a book I wasn’t sure I wanted to read. I’m really not into Greek or Roman mythology. I don’t know much besides the basics. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just not a thing that I’ve ever really enjoyed and become obsessed with. Circe is a minor goddess on the pantheon that, frankly, I’d never heard of before I saw this book bandied around and praised by a ton of people.

The reason I decided to read this is actually quite simple. I was in the mood for a book that was written with such lush prose, I’d stop and savor each word. I mean, I wanted to read a book where the writing was so beautiful it deserved to be framed. I wanted to read a book that made me stop and say, “Holy shit, I had no idea words could be used like that.”

So, I saw a bunch of people talking about Circe and decided to give it a shot.

Friends, I’m so glad I did. First of all, I learned a lot. Greek mythology is a hell of a lot more interesting than I ever gave it credit for. Secondly, the writing style was everything I was wanting to read right then. Third, that story. Holy buckets, that story!

Circe is a rather conflicted character. She’s born into a family as the oldest daughter, who is also the most unappreciated and is outshined by her zealous siblings, and her two parents, both of whom are well-known in their own rights. She’s, to me, the most human of the bunch, and suffers a lot due to that. Eventually, she discovers that she can do witchcraft, and this is seen as a threat by Zeus. She’s exiled to an island, and this was really the point where the story gets going for me.

Circe is told in an autobiographical way, the story unfolds as Circe remembers it, and it has all of the personal insights that entail. Like I said above, she is a conflicted character, and her time alone on the island is spent learning about herself and learning about the past and her childhood, her place in her family, and the world she was born into.

There’s a lot of personal discovery in these pages, and a lot of evolution. Circe spends her time alone, isolated, and learning who she is. She figures out her witchcraft and sways between the poles of her moods. In fact, she is a woman who is basically a house divided. She’s very angry and lonely, on the other hand, she’s incredibly passionate and almost satisfied with her lot in life, exiled as she is.

Intermixed with this are a few run-ins with her family, with varying results, both personally and with her relationships. While these situations are interesting, and often vibrant spots in the book that show the greater tapestry of the world that Circe exists in, it’s the quieter moments that tended to interest me more. For example, watching Circe fall in love, learn how to love. Watching her become a mother, learning the boundaries between overprotection and protection, watching her evolve as her son grew. It was these quiet moments that really intrigued me.

Eventually Circe sort of transcended her heritage and her godhood. The gods and the mysticism stopped interesting me, stopped mattering as much as the story of Circe becoming herself in a world (island) of her own creation (kind of – it’s already created but she certainly makes it hers).

So, this book was just about everything I ever wanted to read. It sparked an interest in mythology that I never really expected to have. The writing, though, and the personal, introspective, journey of Circe shucking off her heritage, and becoming who she was meant to be is stunning.

And those prose. THOSE. PROSE.

Even if you don’t like the story (which, frankly, is impossible), read this book for the prose. Savor every word.

It’s worth it. Also, if this book doesn’t get award nominations, then I’m really a turtle.


5/5 stars

One Responses

  • The only think I know about Circe is her run in with Odysseus. I really love Greek mythology, and I’ve seen this book around a lot. I think I should give it a try, especially if the writing is that amazing.

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