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Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

Of late, much has been made of Madeline Miller’s Circe, a first-person retelling of the story of the Witch of Aiaia from The Odyssey. After checking it out, I can see why. The novel has a dreamlike quality that carries one along for a ride to another time and place, an effect that works especially well with stories of the mythic past.

Circe has always been a figure of moral ambiguity, like so many mythological entities, but most traditional tales of her often cast her as more villain than anything else. As one would expect in such a retelling, the novel shifts to a portrayal rather of a victim of circumstance and admirable freethinker among the Greek pantheon.

Circe suffers under the misogyny of her people. A nymph whose sole purpose is to marry whoever her father demands and never to talk back to any real deity. Within this framework, we also see an interplay of the post-war strife between the Olympians and the titans. Miller makes a point–one so often lost in interpretations of Greek myth–that these two peoples are, in fact, exactly the same race. The Olympians are titans who gave themselves a new title to lord their victory over their forebears.

I also appreciated her depictions of the vast majority of immortals as amoral beings who revel in petty cruelties and give absolutely no regard to mortal lives. I wouldn’t call the novel grimdark, but it sure approaches it because of this mythologically accurate portrayal of the deities, and even the desperately flawed portrayal of the human heroes.

Miller makes numerous adjustments to the myths in order to involve Circe in a multitude of tales, from the minotaur, to Daedalus, to most prominently, the curse of Scylla. Such changes are only to be expected, and all work fairly well alone. Collectively, it sometimes felt her connection to all these other stories might have been taken a bit far. This is a minor quibble, however, as everything ties together well enough.

I thoroughly enjoyed my journey with Circe and I highly recommend everyone check it out.

Check it out on Amazon

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