Review of the book:
Let me come out and say it, Madeline Miller has a way with words that knows no equal. She has the uncanny ability to write a tale that is both a timeless classic and an approachable story at the same time. If you had told me this novel had been written thousands of years ago, during the days when Zeus himself walked our earth, I would have believed you. If you had told me Circe lived on a small island in the Mediterranean sea right now, I wouldn’t argue either.
The story has all the gravitas of Greek mythology, without the cumbersome language. It is a story as the bards would have sung it, without the needless embellishments. Our narrator does not shy away from hurt and misfortune. Our hero is not an infallible being, favoured by the gods, the chosen one who will prevail against all odds.
Our hero is a woman scorn. A woman who has never fit in amongst her closest relations. With one foot in the world of divinity and the other firmly rooted amongst mortals. Circe’s is a tale of self-exploration. Circe’s is a tale of will. Circe’s is a tale of persistence.
What is perhaps most interesting about the story is its narrative. No longer is Circe a character thrown into the mix to aid and build the credentials of our heroes. To deify Jason and Odysseus. A minor inconvenience in the epic of men, a plotline, a throwaway character with no agency of her own.
No more. Circe is a woman who has done unspeakable things. Who has created monsters who have haunted her humanity. Who has been failed by those around her with lofty goals and spiteful ambitions. She is bullied, belittled and cast aside. She is lonely, harsh and unforgiven. Through all of that, she finds her centre. She becomes the powerful witch of Aiaia. One who does not rule by taking away free will like her brother. Nor one who rules through fear and threat like her sister. She needs no subjects. She rules her island as she rules herself. Through will, through work.
Another thing Madeline Miller has done expertly is showing the gods through Circe’s eyes. Of course, anyone who has read the barest about the Greek Pantheon knows most of them are flawed beyond measure. However, there always seem to be redeeming factors. Not for Circe. Not for the witch who has existed on the fringes of this cacophony. She undresses them for the reader. She leaves them exposed. She makes us question what we have learned as gospel. She makes us wonder if they are different from us at all. If they are not simply spiteful, power-hungry creatures after all.
I honestly could keep gushing about this epos until I am hoarse, but I will leave it here. Suffice to say I highly recommend this story. Even if you weren’t a fan of Miller’s earlier work, don’t rob yourself of the pleasure of reading this story.