‘Circe’ by Madeline Miller is her first novel since her roaring success with ‘The Song of Archilles’, something I know I will pick up in the future now having read this. ‘Circe’ is claimed to be an international no. 1 bestseller and currently has an average rating of 4.82 on goodreads. The story follows Circe and her life from birth to many years in the future to what felt like a fitting end, even though it wasn’t the end of Circe’s story.
“The thought was this: that all my life had been murk and depths, but I was not a part of that dark water. I was a creature within it.”
Whilst I’ve never read ‘The Iliad’ or ‘The Odyessy’, I read this shortly after reading ‘The Silence of The Girls’ by Pat Barker and so therefore held a little knowledge regarding Greek mythology when reading this. However, this was a completely different side to Greek mythology and a fascinating one that not only dealt with the Gods, but also with monsters and those who had magic. It tied together so many iconic stories from Greek mythology and at the heart of that web sat Circe.
Circe within the novel goes through a profound change, she is born as the daughter of a God who is mocked and disliked, and she feels that pain, she lives with it and becomes it. She truly believes she is worthy of it. Yet, as the narrative progresses she becomes strong and fearsome, and a threat to many. Whilst there are times where she becomes brutal and cruel, and we wonder if she will be reduced to these cruel acts, she does comes full circle and becomes a female character we recognise loves herself and others. A female character we revere not only for her strength and bravery, but her kindness and heart. She is able to recognise she is Circe, and deserves much more than the Gods have ever given her. She is truly a remarkably complex female character with a detailed character arc.
It’s also a joy to read about a heroine who is complex. It’s not often in media do we found heroines or even heroes who are complex, they are either morally just and always good, or we encounter heroines people try to make complex but unfortunately cross the line into cruel. We finally have a complex heroine we can love, even all her faults and flaws.
For a novel that appears to span hundreds of years you would think it could become tiresome or boring, but Miller manages to engage her reader and keep their interest and weaves a complicated web where Circe sits in the centre, largely unknown and alone. Whilst this is a character driven novel, the plot isn’t left neglected and it’s still a wonderful story.
The book also is a wonderful and woeful commentary on how the stories of heroes and tragedies, comedies and love stories have historically been written from the male perspective, and the female perspective has been largely neglected. Not here. Miller fully flushes out the female experience and perspective and there is great anger and sadness in the narrative, but also tales of love and happiness. I think when it comes to Greek retellings or even Greek myths it feels uniquely female.
The only criticism I could have for this book, is that I can’t imagine it being very engaging for anyone whose not interested in Greek mythology. It’s not a re-imagining of Greek mythology, and it’s not a hugely creative retelling – it follows it’s source material quite closely. It could be a turn off in those regards if that’s not to your taste, but I personally enjoyed it.
Is it a literary matserpiece or enough to rival ‘The Iliad’? No, of course not. But it’s modern and exciting and a read you won’t be able to put down. Madeline Miller ultimately does what Barker failed to do in ‘The Silence of The Girls’, she tells the story of a solely female perspective. She ensures that Circe is heard in the modern age in this book, and what a story Circe has to tell us.