Published by Bloomsbury 19th April 2018 / 352 pages
Opening sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.”
This is Madeline Miller’s version of the life of the Ancient Greek Goddess, Circe. According to (some) Greek legends, Circe was the daughter of the sun god Helios and the ocean nymph, Perse. What made her stand out from all the other Goddesses was that, along with her siblings Pasiphaë, Aeetes and Perses she was a witch, with the power to make potions and cast spells. Witchcraft was new to the Gods and scared by any new power, especially one they don’t have themselves, Circe’s father exiles her to the island of Aiaia. As she is immortal, that is a long exile.
Circe is a complex, strong, independent woman. Yes she is a Goddess but she was cast out by her parents and has to work hard to make her own place in the world. She embraces her island, seeing it not as a prison, but a place she can thrive in. This makes her a character you want to get behind. I also loved that through Circe’s story, other famous Greek myths that I have a fuzzy memory of from school cropped up too – the Minotaur, the story of Prometheus, Odysseus and the battle of Troy. She is also visited by Hermes and Athena on her island, so we get to meet these famous Gods and Goddesses too. It’s kind of like a celebrity popping up in a story your friend is telling you.
As with her previous book, The Song of Achillies (which I loved), what Madeline Miller does so well is humanise these iconic characters so that you care about them and become invested in their story. She is also brilliant at streamlining the myths. As is the way of ancient stories, a quick google will reveal that there are many variations on the myth of Circe, so Miller uses the key moments from Circe’s life, cutting parts and embellishing others to create a fast-paced, wonderfully captivating story about a truly enchanting Goddess.
This read did have me typing into Google every other page – not out of necessity to understand – but just that there were so many references to other Gods, Goddesses, beasts and mortals that I just wanted to learn more and more about. I love it when a novel ignites that feeling of discovery. I had never heard of Circe before, but now I know her very well and could have read double the book length about her life. The ending was just perfect too, it took me by surprise and had me thinking about it long after I finished reading. In short: I loved this book.
If you’re a fan of Greek mythology or of cracking stories in general, then add this to your TBR list! Oh and how beautiful is the cover??