Published in April 2018
A retelling of Greek mythology.
Every step was perfect, like a gift she gave herself, and she smiled, receiving it. I wanted to seize her by the shoulders. Whatever you do, I wanted to say, do not be too happy. It will bring down fire on your head.
Circe is the daughter of a great Titan called Helios who is equal to Zeus in his powers. Helios is the Sun. Circe spends her childhood surrounded by her parents’ and siblings’ unkind and cold remarks in Helios’ palace that is completely made of obsidian to reflect his bright fires. In general the Gods are pretty terrible; they trick and lie, destroy and make awful things in the name of jealousy, fame or simple boredom. The story is loyal to Greek mythology, and if you’re well versed in this area you’ll notice a lot of familiar stories. Nevertheless, Circe is kind to those who have very limited knowledge of the mythology and there is no need to revise before diving in this book. But if you’re a Greek mythology geek, you’re in for an awesome ride, Madeline Miller spins the mythology beautifully to weave an intricate and interesting story without distorting the myths.
I rarely run into books that I enjoy so thoroughly as I did enjoy Circe. I think the last book that moved my heart somewhere near as much was Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer which is my favourite book of all time. Circe is a beautiful story but what I enjoyed the most was Madeline Miller’s writing style. Her style is straight-forward and everything that is included in this novel is essential to it. But there is no bluntness to the forthright style. Miller’s writer is so athmospheric that even those readers who often find it difficult to become completely immersed into a novel could easily achieve it while reading Circe. And I don’t mean that as in simply enjoying the book, but I mean immersed as in that you are in the wild island of Aiaia with Circe as she walks the shores with her lion. Like the kind of hallucinative wonderfulness that book-addicts occassionally achieve with brilliant novels. Here is a brilliant novel.
Many novels deal with families as a unit with a limited set of traits. The parents are like X and Z, the children are Y, G, and R. There is a crazy uncle and an annoying aunt. Circe, on the other hand, has actual complexity. The families are formed by individuals with complex feelings and pains. These heart-aches are not relieved by small things because they are not formed by small things, but caused by years of events that have piled up to make something huge. This is what makes the book so throughly interesting: when the problems are complex things there is no clear answer to how they should be solved.
At its deepest, I think of Circe as an exploration of fear and power.
Do you need to have power to have lived a life worth living?
And if others fear you, is that power?
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 fame by proving what they can mar: destroying cities, starting wars, breeding plagues and monsters. All that smoke and savour rising so delicately from our altars. It leaves only ash behind.
To the Gods in Greek mythology, fear seems to be their everything. They enjoy being feared and they go to lengths to make mortals fear them. They find fear thrilling when it happens to someone else, but an awful thing when it is found in their own set of feelings. In the Gods’ halls there is no such thing as kindness and forgiveness. But there is an individual with a drop of both of these qualities and very limited desire for fear and power. That’s Circe.
Circe turned out to be my favourite book of the year (so far) and I’m excited to see if anything I read in the remaining 6 months will best it. I highly recommend Circe, and not only for those who enjoy Greek mythology. I believe that most people would find Circe spectacular, so give it a go!
Are you planning to read Circe? Or have you read it already? Share your thoughts as I would love to hear them 🙂
Thank you so much for reading!