Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

Later, years later, I would hear a song made of our meeting. The boy who sang it was unskilled, missing notes more often than he hit, yet the sweet music of verses shone through his mangling. I was not surprised by the portrait of myself: the proud witch undone before the hero’s sword, kneeling and begging for mercy. Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.

In her highly anticipated second novel, following the whirlwind success of her debut, Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller delves back in to the world of Greek mythology—this time expanding upon Homer’s The Odyssey and telling the story of the mysterious goddess Circe that so captivated Odysseus during his epic journey.

We first meet Circe as a young lower goddess, the child of Helios and a naiad, Perse, but we quickly learn of her fate and she is easily shunned by her mother—deemed unworthy and incapable of living up to her high expectations. Circe’s early life continues on and she appears to resign herself to the fate of meek outcast and it is a wonder how she becomes the future object of fascination for Homer’s patriarch.

Such were my years there. I would like to say that all the while I waited to break out, but the truth is, I’m afraid I might have floated on, believing those dull miseries were all there was, until the end of days.

When a bold decision leads to the discovery of her hidden powers as a witch and spark her father’s wrath, Circe is banished from her homeland to live out the remainder of her days on an isolated island. Left to toil away the years, she is forced to reckon with her timid nature and search within herself for the power that briefly showed itself and led to her exile.

That is what exile meant: no one was coming, no one ever would. There was fear in that knowledge, but after my long night of terrors it felt small and inconsequential. The worst of my cowardice had been sweated out. In its place was a giddy spark. I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open.

I stepped out into those woods and my life began.

Her voice and spirit grow stronger as he begins to uncover the depth of her abilities and to transform the world around her. These transformations of the outer world beget a transformation within and soon Circe becomes the fierce goddess that was first penned by Homer. As the story continues we experience the dangers and struggles of a women alone and witness first hand the boundless strength of a women tested.

With a keen feminine edge, Miller brings to life a character that embodies the transformation many women undergo when they are given the opportunity to discover the strength that exists within themselves- which has always been there but is often squashed by societal norms, misogynistic ideals or their own unrealised potential.

Masterfully rendered, Circe is the perfect read for lovers of The Odyssey, Greek mythology or any timely feminist fictional tale.

It is a common saying the women are delicate creatures—flowers, eggs, anything that may be crushed in a moment’s carelessness. It if had ever believed it, I no longer did.

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A review copy of this title was provided by Little Brown and Co (Lee Boudreaux Books)

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