Review: Circe

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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.

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.

Amazon

This is my review for Circe by Madeline Miller

I intend to use the ***ASPECT method for my discussion and will not spoil the ending.


Atmosphere

As noted above, this is a myth retelling. In the same way Mists of Avalon told the Arthurian legend from a different perspective, so does this reframe the Greek myths around Circe. So it is, of course, set in “ancient times” that are a version of fairy tales. It had never occurred to me but there is some significant overlap between magical realism and ancient myths. In the same way, you can’t expect the “normal” narrative things like time having meaning or things being literal… or sometimes things are 100% literal but also supernatural. 

I liked it.

Writing Style / Characters:

This book was easy to read. It isn’t going to win any awards for high vocabulary. It isn’t actually overly deep or “literary.” What it is… is a retelling, in mostly modern language, of a myth from the POV of Circe herself. I can’t speak to how authentic Circe’s voice is as she is, you know, a character in a myth who was written forever ago by members of a civilization that I don’t belong to as part of their morality tale and universe explanation curriculum… But she sounds as “real” as you might want. She is sympathetic, not perfect, and a good storyteller. 

More has been written about Odysseus and his journey (his “Hero’s Journey” as my high school English and then later my college Humanities teachers would say). Miller dismantles this “hero” a bit by pointing out the obvious, that the dude did some shit things under the umbrella of “trickster smarty pants.” And yes, that probably was intentional in order to nudge the narrative we have all heard just enough to make Circe more sympathetic… but isn’t that the point of retellings like this? 

Case in point (and a slightly funny segway): My 8-year-old daughter has also been reading Greek myth retellings lately. She has read the Percy Jackson series and then the Heros of Olympus series… and then the Goddess Girls series. To fully flesh out her obsession I got her a kids watered down ( ie no rape) version of a bunch of the myths that she has devoured. We had the following exchange.

Her: Is your book Circe about the girl front he myths?

Me Yep.

Her: I know about her!

Me: What do you know?

Her: Well in the real myths, she turned a bunch of guys into pigs.

Me: Why do you think she did that?

Her: I don’t know, I guess so that other guy could rescue them.

Me: / suddenly understanding 100% why Miller decided to write this book and rewrite that anecdote./ In this book her reasons are to protect herself. If a bunch of smelly potentially dangerous dudes showed up uninvited to my island and threatened me and I had that power? They would be pigs for sure. 

Her: Yeah, me too!

Raising a feminist I tell you. ANYway… back to the review.

Plot / Pacing:

The book is LONG. And, yes, Circe lives a very very long time. But egads. It is long. Also? It kinda takes a while to really get humming. The main tension is between Circe and herself… but the external tension is between Circe and Athena and that really doesn’t pick up until halfway through. Yes, all the stuff that came before is interesting and does a lot for Circe’s character growth, but it was a hefty number of pages. That being said, I can’t imagine cutting anything out. Everything is important, even things you think might be a one-off mention. What saves it from being a slog is that… 

Entertaining:

Yes! It was entertaining. Especially the second half when she was dealing more with mortals and going through motherhood. In fact, the motherhood part was the best part for me (for maybe obvious reasons). Circe’s fear for her child and her desire to keep him safe by keeping him trapped… resonated with me. Deeply. Especially now with COVID and my daughter’s school opening back up in a matter of weeks… oy vey. Also? My kiddo is now riding a big kid bike and wanting to ride off into the wilds and explore the world and I am terrified. Terrified! So I felt Circe’s pain and her fear. 

The only thing that diminished from my enjoyment was that the book was (by its very nature) somewhat predictable. The back blurb posits that Circe will have to make a choice… but you get a third of the way through and before there is even a choice to be made, you know what she will choose

Why This Book?

I kept seeing it compared to Mists of Avalon… but for myths. And… I LOVED Mists of Avalon. That was a very formative book for me for a variety of reasons. This book does not shake me down to my core like that one did… partly because the “from another perspective” has been done and done again and partly because I never had the attachment to the Greek myths to begin with. They always seemed on the same level of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox… like.. Ok.. cool story bro… but.. /shrug. 

Would I recommend it?

Sure! Yes! I can’t speak for the other contemporary retellings of Greek myths (maybe my kiddo should guest post), but for my money, this was a book that did exactly what it set out to do: reframe a woman from a dude’s story where she was the villain into the protagonist of her own tale and remind you that perspective and who gets the privilege of having their story told…? Those things matter.



*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)

A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.

S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?

P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?

E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?

C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?T This? Why did I read *This* book?


Thank you for your support!


Feel free to tell me what you think in the comments or send me an email.


Published by kayliametcalfe

Queer,loudmouth,skeptical-agnostic-pagan,book addict,coffee lover,wine drinker, SAHM,writer,editor,producer,podcaster. -She/her

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