Circe

Myth, motherhood and magic

Circe Book Review by Fable and Fizz
Release Date
April 4, 2019
Author
Madeline Miller
Page count
368
Genre
Historical Fiction, Mythology
What to expect
A feminist, human retelling of an ancient mythology
Who's it for?
Old souls
Goodreads rating
4.26

 

 

Myth, magic, motherhood and mayhem. From the publisher: “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”.

 

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

— Madeline Miller, Circe

 

Cover

Aside from the little shudder I did at the alignment of text either side of the vertical title, the UK cover is as warm as the rays beaming from Helios himself. I prefer the alternate cover that came from the other side of the pond (USA), with the huge, stencil-like face of Circe ensconced in a wreath and gazing at you with poetic eyes. Compare for yourself.

 

USA cover and UK cover respectively

 

Prose

Miller’s prose is as bewitching as Circe’s concoctions. At times it drips with honey, at others it is purposeful and punchy. To say I was entranced was an understatement.

 

Production

Okay, so Perdita Weeks might just be my new favourite narrator. My word. That woman’s voice takes Miller’s dripping honey prose and adds an even sweeter, more unctuous, more concentrated layer to it. The mead of narrators. Yeah, that’s a thing.

I highly recommended to listen to this book if you can. You will be transported to the isle of Aiaia quicker than one of Hermes’ horny trips there.

 

Plot

When the bulk of your knowledge of the Greek gods and goddesses is rooted in pronouncing certain luxury fashion labels ‘the French way’ and random episodes of The Simpsons, you know sooner or later you’re going to have to do a little more reading up on it by yourself.

Thankfully, I finally got around to reading this magic book — not only learning a tonne, but loving it all the way to Valhalla. Wait, wrong mythology.

Circe is a sorta bit-part character in Homer’s The Odyssey (for those playing at home, we’ve now switched from The Simpsons references to ye olde Homer, the 8th century BC author). This epic poem is, of course, about a MAN. A man who for centuries, has been celebrated for his cunning wile and something to do with a horse. But what if we celebrated a woman, instead? How would that look?

Let’s explore. Circe is the daughter of Helios (the sun god) and of the ocean nymph Perse. Making her a minor goddess but a powerful enchantress. She is lured to the world of mortals; for love and for folly. After dabbling a little too much with her powers for the wrong reasons, she is banished to the deserted isle of Aiaia where she hones her witchcraft on ship-tonnes of mortal men, all in the name of self-defence. And boy do they deserve it, it seems. There’s a whole thing about pigs.

Along the way, Circe encounters a bevy of mythological beings, Odysseus himself, and the hard decision about whether a life as a god or mortal is her true calling. Her birthright or the world she loves.

Ultimately, it’s a lesson many of us learn on this mortal coil: that when a woman is independent and chooses to stand alone, there she faces her biggest battles against a world that wants to take her down a notch, or two.

 

This was how mortals found fame, I thought. Through practice and diligence, tending their skills like gardens until they glowed beneath the sun. But gods are born of ichor and nectar, their excellences already bursting from their fingertips. So they find their fame by proving what they can mar: destroying cities, starting wars, breeding plagues and monsters. All that smoke and savor rising so delicately from our altars. It leaves only ash behind

— Madeline Miller, Circe

 

Review

This is an absolute must read because there is so much to enjoy about this book.

It feels like a truly living, breathing tale as opposed to an ancient story covered in dust. It is full to the brim of infamous characters that have sparked thousands upon thousands of reinventions in plays, poems and books. Here, you really feel you’re meeting them in the flesh.

The plot never tarries; and yet there is time to explain feelings like poetry.

I loved how Miller went about humanising the gods, goddesses, nymphs and monsters we meet. While they exist on a plane that only mortals can dream of, it’s their flawed characters that really make them one of us. This is most present in Circe’s discovery of her magic and her motherhood; failing, persevering and willing her way forwards. She discovers the double-edged sword of independence — that its satisfaction is often accompanied with a sort of loneliness that comes with straying beyond the pack.

Miller’s fascination with the wants and whims that propel us through life — particularly noting the weakness of males, both mythic and mortal — are clear and present throughout. By shining a light on how the world views strong women, by creating a fullness in Circe’s complexities and her treatment by others, it brings this ancient tale crashing into present day and what a delight that is. As someone who is dipping their toe into the world of the Olympians it’s lovely to read a tale so old feel so very contemporary.

Echoes of the epic unfold in the narrative, but it’s clear that Miller’s imagination has found plenty of scope for this passionate and delicious character to roam.

Utterly divine.

But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.

Circe
Cover
Premise
Prose
Characters
Ending
Beautiful prose
A new side to Homer
Spellbinding
4.8
A colourful, curated blend of books, wine and creativity, with a soft spot for Australian work and female-centric narratives.


Fable and Fizz would like to acknowledge the Whadjuck Noongar people as the traditional owners and continual custodians on the lands and waters this content is primarily written on. I pay respects to their Elders — past and present. This always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
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