Circe by Madeline Miller

(This review is kind of long, so there’s a TL;DR at the end for those who don’t want to read the whole thing.)

Buckle up kiddos, because this book is a wild, wild, ride. Prepare to be hurt. Prepare to cry. Prepare to enjoy every second of the madness. When I say I would lay my life on the line for Circe, there is hardly any hyperbole. 

Background: I discovered Madeline Miller a year or two ago, when I read her Song of Achilles. It’s an intense, sweeping tale, but that’s a review for another day. The point being, I was super excited when I found out she was doing a new book, as she’s an amazing writer. More on that later. 

Anyway, Circe, as you probably expected, is a retelling of the life of the enchantress Circe. She is known in Greek mythology as a goddess of magic and transformation, most famously in Homer’s Odyssey. The book follows her through her father’s halls (her father is Helios the titan), various adventures, whirlpools and remote islands. As far as I can tell, most, though not all of the plot elements are taken from original texts about her. 

(At this point, I’ll say that I don’t think I’d recommend this book for younger audiences. There’s swearing and, y’know, other things going on that could be considered pretty unsavoury. No explicit sex scenes or anything, this isn’t Fifty Shades, but still. It can get to be a little much.)

Now, most depictions of Circe are unflattering, to say the least. She’s been seen as a jealous femme fatale, a sexual object, an evil and unreasonable witch, etc. Generations of male writers and philosophers alike have heaped abuse on her as a symbol of immorality and shame. She’s a device to tempt a man, or to harm him, nothing more. This retelling of her story is different. It sympathises with Circe, painting her as, gasp, a real person, with thoughts of her own and feelings to match. She’s torn between two worlds, a situation that’s relatable, I think, no matter who you are. There are parts of her life that are less-than-perfect, and the book shows that too. She has an ugly past and works hard to overcome it, standing as a lone woman against Olympians and titans. As she takes power for herself, you’ll find yourself cheering for her, feeling her victories and her pains. Circe may be bruised and broken, but she rises. 

In conclusion: Circe does not stray away from messy stuff, like loss, guilt, or betrayal, nor does it sugarcoat any of the notoriously shady dealings of the gods. It’s a great if you love Greek mythology, but also great if you don’t, and provides a fresh perspective on an important but often overlooked character. Circe is a well-written, very beautiful book without being too pretentious or sentimental. I completely, totally, 20/10, 200% recommend it to read, provided you’re alright with darker themes and such. 

TL;DR: Circe is a magnificent, incredibly written, and feminist character study about the goddess Circe from Greek mythology. GO BORROW IT FROM THE LIBRARY ASAP! (Or put a hold on it, because it’s really popular. Because it’s an amazing book.)