Circe by Madeline Miller
Published by Little, Brown and Company on April 10, 2018
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg: 4.32 (as of 2019-04-03)
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.
Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.
But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and 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.
Circe had already been on my TBR since I really liked The Song of Achilles, but I had seen lukewarm praise by friends and decided not to prioritize it. Its place on the Women’s Prize longlist is what skyrocketed it to the top of my list. I can see to some extent why it’s so well-loved: Madeline Miller manages to create a feminist retelling of Circe’s place in history. Miller’s prose is lovely, as expected, and it’s quite an easy read.
I had no right to claim him, I knew it. But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips towards yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.
Unfortunately, I just found there to be something missing. With The Song of Achilles, Miller really managed to tug at the heartstrings in a way that I didn’t experience again in Circe. Part of this may have been due to the length of the story, which takes place over thousands of years and which necessitates large gaps in time. It’s difficult for me to pinpoint anything else, though. There’s nothing I can point to as causing my neutrality, I just… wasn’t quite as invested in the story as I would’ve liked.
I did not care. I thought: give me the blade. Some things are worth spilling blood for.
Overall, though, Circe is a worthwhile read. Miller is a great writer and I don’t regret picking this up. It seems by and large to satisfy audiences, so I’m definitely in the minority with my rating.
More Women’s Prize 2019 Longlist reviews:
Lost Children Archive
Praise Song for the Butterflies
An American Marriage
My Sister, the Serial Killer
The Silence of the Girls