Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe – Madeline Miller (Little, Brown, and Company, 2018)

I had high hopes for Circe after enjoying The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller so much and I’m pleased to report that this book didn’t disappoint. Circe is our main character and our narrator. She is a daughter of Titans, daughter of Helios, the sun god, surrounded by power but largely powerless herself. She grows up lonely and timid in the halls of her father, with the cruelty and omnipotence of the gods on full display, knowing she is at their every whim. When Circe and her brothers and sister are revealed to be more powerful than anyone initially assumed, Circe is banished to her own island. There she learns more about her own powers and begins to form her own unending future.

Circe is probably best known for her part in Odysseus’s story. When Odysseus and his men land on her island on their long way home, Circe turns the men into pigs but takes Odysseus as a lover. While this is certainly an important part of Circe, Miller’s interest is more focused on Circe as an individual, not simply as she relates to the men around here. Is this a feminist re-telling? Yes, but I think to define it only as such is to diminish what Miller does in this work.

This is a story about mortality, about power and authority. Circe is an immortal being but cut off from all other gods, visited only occasionally by gods and humans, mostly out of her own control. She is powerful and weak at the same time. Hers is a power that requires harnessing and practice. From a young age, she is sympathetic towards humans, even before she meets one. There is a telling scene early on in the book where Circe meets Prometheus, about to be punished for giving fire to humans, and this forms a core part of her character.

This is a story about what we can control, what we cannot, and learning to accept the difference. The ending is gorgeous – tragic and hopeful at the same time and capturing something so real about what it is to be human. There’s a lot I could say about this novel but I also don’t want to give anything away. From the few check-ins I did with wikipedia while reading, it seemed that Miller kept fairly close to the original myths and stories while still adding quite a bit and fleshing Circe out to feel so believable. Highly recommended.

13 thoughts on “Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller”

  1. While I did enjoy The Song of Achilles, I always wondered if a large part of my enjoyment was the audiobook narrator. He was spectacular in his emotion, and the voice he chose for Achilles was so perfect. It was a little bit dense with deep wisdom behind it, if that makes any sense. Like, Achilles was really smart, but his lack of experience as a result of him always being the best and not experiencing otherwise, lent a sort of unknowing element to his tone. Perhaps I’ll listen to Circe and see what it’s like.

    1. That’s an interesting thought. I could see how a narrator could add a lot to a book like that. It could be the same with Circe though since she is female it would have to be a different voice actor!

    1. I haven’t – there was a rush of mythology retellings around that time and I got a bit tired of them – but I’ve had a break from the subgenre now so I’m definitely ready to start picking them up again!

  2. I’m so glad you enjoyed Circe! I’ve just picked up a copy of The Song of Achilles and am really looking forward to reading it.

  3. Greek myths are such a blind spot in my reading, (yet another one it seems) and everyone just raves about this book. Perhaps I’ll read her next one, she no doubt has one coming soon…

    1. As I finished this one I thought she must have another book coming soon. It will be interesting to see if she continue the myth thing. She does it so well but I would also love to see something different from her.

  4. yay so glad you enjoyed this!! i read this such a long time ago but i still remember certain scenes and moments from it, and thats how i can tell it’s really one of my favourites. im so excited for more books from madeline miller – her writing is just unparalleled 👌👌

    1. Yes, I’m really excited to see what she does next! I’d love to see her tackle more mythological characters because she does them so well but I’m also curious what she’d do with something entirely different.

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