Roughly two weeks ago, I was given this gorgeous book as a gift, but promised myself that I would finish reading The Coral Island before I opened it. Now, though, I am wishing that I had started reading it on the very day that it was published.
Author: Madeline Miller.
Publication: 2018, Bloomsbury
Length: 336 pages.
Genre(s): Fantasy, Mythology.
My Rating: 5/5.
Circe is essentially (although not exclusively, because it also does a lot more than this,) a retelling of a mere portion of Greek mythology. The story follows the infamous witch, Circe, from childhood, where she is abused and neglected by her fellow gods, to adulthood, where she meets famous figures such as Odysseus, Daedalus and his son Icarus, Hermes, Athena, and even the Minatour. On the surface, it is a story of survival, as Circe seeks to find her place in a world filled with both gods and mortals.
Yet this is also a story about love, sacrifice, and what it means to exist in this world that is so unlike our own. Circe is rejected by her family for a reason that many of us can understand: she is different, and, as result of this, along with a little witchcraft, she is exiled to spend all of eternity stranded on a desert island. Yet Circe’s life is far from over, and she is frequently visited, her companions sometimes friendly, and sometimes not so friendly. The story takes us beyond the myth to really understand Circe and what drives her. She may be a goddess, but she has thoughts and feelings just like we do. Madeline Miller takes us inside these feelings in an epic story of pure adventure.
Circe was probably my most anticipated read for this year. I have always loved mythology, particularly the myths and legends of Ancient Greece. I was fascinated by these stories as a child and grew to love them still more when I read The Odyssey for the first time. Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad did an excellent job of breathing life back into this story by telling it from the perspective of Odysseus’ wife, Penelope. Circe, on the other hand, has completely blown my mind. I was hooked from the moment that I started reading, and every time that I had to put it down I felt impatient – all I wanted to do was read!
What I Loved:
Firstly, let me just say that Madeline Miller’s writing is absolutely superb. She did a fantastic job of merging classical tropes such as epithets with a more modern style of writing. This really came clear as she began to describe the settings surrounding Circe. Through her writing, I really came to love the island, Aiaia, and the comfort that it offered. As I was reading, I was picturing Circe’s lions and wolves lying down in her kitchen and following her along the beach. The other settings in the book are well described, although much more fleeting; I appreciated the enormity of Crete and felt the fear as ships passed between the narrow strip separating Scylla and Charybdis.
The next best thing about this book is its characterisation; unlike The Penelopiad, this isn’t strictly a feminist work and Circe is by no means perfect. Nevertheless, she is a very three-dimensional character that I both loved and felt increasingly impatient with. The other characters are less developed, but this isn’t a problem – Circe is the heart of this book and it is her personality that really shines through.
Another appeal of this book is that, whilst it is a fantastic read in its own right, it also felt at least partially educational. Although I have read both The Odyssey and The Aeneid, I am by no means an expert when it comes to ancient mythology. Circe led me to ask questions about the original stories and investigate them further. Reading about these myths alongside Circe, I was then able to further appreciate the way that Miller weaves her characters’ personalities into an already established tale.
What I Didn’t Like:
This is by no means a fault of Circe or its author, but it is something that I noticed as I was reading: due to Circe’s exile, she is set apart from the rest of the world. To an extent, this is appealing, as we can see her development and better appreciate the events happening around her. At the same time, though, there were occasions, such as the mention of Theseus’ adventure with the Minotaur, and Medea’s anguish at being rejected by her husband, Jason, that I wished this book brought us a little closer to the action. I realise that one key point of Circe’s story is that she has been isolated, but, in terms of my reading experience, I simply wished that Circe could have come into contact with these characters a little more.
Literally the only other thing that bothered me about this book was, again, by no means the fault of Miller. I discovered a few typing errors in my book that temporarily brought me out of the story. More than anything else, this was just a little annoying, but as Circe is still a relatively new book, these errors are to be expected. I honestly cannot think of any other reason to fault this book; it is easily one of my favourite books of all time and may have just overtaken The Shining as my number one, most-loved book. It is intricate, gripping, fascinating, and yet, at the same time, really easy to sink your teeth into!
I am incredibly glad that I have had the great pleasure of reading Circe. As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed reading this book. Both in her childhood and adult life, Circe is an amazing character. I loved following her journey, although I was still sad when the book came to an end and I knew no more of the witch of Aiaia.
I will recommend this book to absolutely everyone and anyone. You don’t need to know much about Greek myths to appreciate it for what it is. It couldn’t hurt to read a brief summary of The Odyssey, but the rest of the myths are explained pretty extensively by Miller. So, if you like books that will transport you, and captivate you for hours at a time, then Circe is most definitely a book for you.
Thank you so much for reading this review! This book was a part of my August 2018 reading challenge (for those of you following my reading progress, this was book two of six, which means that I have four more to go! Next up is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein).
You can click here for an A-Z list of all my reviews (so far)!