Review: Circe, Madeline Miller

Rating: 5 out of 5

I’d seen numerous positive reviews of this book by when I took it up, which only built to my excitement to be finally reading this work—months after I’d originally purchased it. Adding to my sense of excitement was that I read ‘Circe’ while in Cyprus, a place close enough to be a part of the Greek legendarium. Together, the experience of reading this book was wonderful, even if many of the events that Ms Miller described are sorrowful.

I am broadly aware of many Greek myths, but I’ll admit that the name of Circe eluded me until a fair bit into the novel (excepting the adventures of Odysseus). While her story coincides with that of many heroes, Ms Miller’s pen definitely gives the goddess the treatment that Circe deserves in the pantheon by a rich and evocative story.

What made this so enjoyable—indeed, even the dreadful parts—was the way in which the author managed to write herself, the narrator, into the part of the goddess Circe. The reader can feel Circe’s pains and triumphs perfectly; and, yet, Circe’s relative inexperience and naivete never stretched to the unbelievable. Instead, Circe learned, changed her behaviour, but with that also the primary topic of discussion changed, slightly. This careful adjustment of ‘the main idea’ was considerate in helping the reader feel their way through this story.

The part of this book most worth reflecting upon is the way in which the author captured the divinity’s incomprehension of the concept of mortality, as well as Circe’s slow understanding of this human strength. This comes about slowly in the work, but perhaps most poignantly relatively early on when the goddess’s relationship to one of her close companions is taken to its ultimate end. I don’t have those words at hand, but the below quote shows how well Ms Miller managed to narrate:

Of all the mortals on the earth, there are only a few the gods will ever hear of. Consider the practicalities. By the time we learn their names, they are dead. They must be meteors indeed to catch our attention. The merely good: you are dust to us.

Madeline Miller, ‘Circe’

Overall, a strong recommend from me! I suspect there’s plenty here to return to this title in a few years’ time as well…

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