by Madeline Miller
When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.
Circe is the daughter of Helios, the sun god, and Perse, a beautiful naiad. Yet from the moment of her birth, she is an outsider in her father’s halls, where the laughter of gossiping gods resounds. Named after a hawk for her yellow eyes and strange voice, she is mocked by her siblings – until her beloved brother Aeëtes is born.
Yet after her sister Pasiphae marries King Midas of Crete, Aeëtes is whisked away to rule his own island. More isolated than ever, Circe, who has never been divine enough for her family, becomes increasingly drawn to mortals – and when she meets Glaucus, a handsome young fisherman, she is captivated. Yet gods mingle with humans, and meddle with fate, at their peril.
In Circe, Madeline Miller breathes life once more into the ancient world, with the story of an outcast who overcomes scorn and banishment to transform herself into a formidable witch. Unfolding on Circe’s wild, abundant island of Aiaia, where the hillsides are aromatic with herbs, this is a magical, intoxicating epic of family rivalry, power struggles, love and loss – and a celebration of female strength in a man’s world.
Alright, you lovely people, this post is going to be long so brace yourself.
This book took a long time to come to me and by then, almost everyone I knew (at least in the bookish world) had already read it. I have to admit that I was so incredibly jealous of the lucky ones who had the opportunity to read it before I did. (I am aware, it shows how mature I am. I don’t care. Much.)
I have loved Miller’s The Song of Achilles for a while now, so much so that I voluntarily pick it out to re-read, knowing I would be heartbroken at the end of it. So, that coupled with the fact that Miller was once again using her love of Greek mythology to bring forth Circe’s tale, you can see why I would be so very eager to devour the book as soon as possible.
With The Song of Achilles, there was always a steady pattern, the deep knowledge of what was to come, it still undid me, of course but I welcomed it. The Song of Achilles is paced a bit more speedily despite spanning the lives of Patroclus and Achilles.
As more and more reviews were pouring in, I realised something important. Circe was not to be considered in the same vein and rightfully so. I read a lot of people saying that the pace was slow, that nothing really happened in Circe’s life and that Odysseus didn’t feature in the story till very late in the plot. All of that concerned me and it almost made me wonder if I would even like the book.
Then the book came and as I started reading it, I realised something. The trick to read and appreciate Circe is to let go of Miller’s previous works. To let Circe stand on its own and shine.
People were not wrong, the pace is rather slow and not much happens but this is Circe’s life almost documented. Life isn’t always exciting, I wasn’t able to give my best in terms of concentration, too! (Due to very real migraine problems but let’s not think about that right now.)
But there came a time when I finally realised something. While I took my time getting invested in Circe’s life, Miller had already woven her spell over me. I loved her writing in this, it was almost serene despite all that happened in Circe’s life. I started to really empathise with her in due time.
Circe is not an easy person to like, she too naive at first and too meek, then she tries her hand at things she doesn’t have much idea about. Her too make Gloucos into a divine being, the fallout from that, I almost gave up (this was during the week from hell, aka, the week of migraines) but then Circe was banished and her true story began.
I say her story because before she was banished, I don’t think she really lived? That’s just my opinion.
I wouldn’t spoil too much of the book but her interactions with Hermes and her experiences on her island made me love her more than her need for Helio’s love did. I guess, in a way, I saw myself in Circe when she still resided in Helio’s palace. The way she learned the her witchcraft and her love for herself and her companions showed that there was more to the girl who wanted to be accepted into the gods’ inner circle. Her actions with Scylla, her later interactions with men showed growth in her by leaps and bounds.
Her scene with Medea was absolutely awesome. Of course there are moments in the book that I should have expected but didn’t. There are some triggery scenes and I wasn’t quite prepared for them. At the time, I almost thought to myself, why include this scene? What purpose did it serve other than to shock and horrify us? But almost in the next moment, I realised why it was included. I did think that there should have been a trigger warning of sorts, oh well.
Circe and Odysseus talks were one of the better parts of the book, I have always loved Odyssey and though I have conflicting thoughts about Odysseus himself, I love him too. In a way. The way Miller wrote Odysseus made me happy, too. He was such a contrary character, wasn’t he? Always too smart for the people around him and later, when you are done reading The Iliad or even the Odyssey, you don’t really like him. His impressions are almost always of contrary nature. Miller managed that brilliantly.
I should mention that I loved Penelope in this one just as I love her anywhere else. (Yeah, she’s a badass character and should be appreciated more in my opinion.)
I think I loved many parts of the book thoroughly and some parts not quite but overall, I loved the book and can’t wait to read it again. I think this book could have done with a bit of a pace and maybe some of the scenes weren’t absolutely needed but if we take that away, it’s a great book. The one thing I really loved was the fact that Miller decided to write about Circe, she is never really been the focus of any story. I had kinda made up my mind about Circe when I read the Odyssey for the first time but now, I am glad that I got to change my mind. I am glad that my impression of her as the witch who turns men into goats has changed, made her into something more real.
If you love Greek mythology, a retelling of the said myths and tragic, sad stories, this is the book for you. If you love a languid pace, with side characters just as interesting as the main character then this is the book for you. If you love strong but flawed main characters then this is the book for you.