The Fiction Fox
Review: Circe - Madeline Miller
Genre: Fantasy/Mythology Published: Bloomsbury UK, April 2018 My Rating: 4.75/5 stars
Going into Circe, I was equal parts over-the-moon-excited and nervous. I love Greek and Roman mythology. I read the kiddieproof-versions (for all you Dutchies: the ones by Simone Kramer) with my mom and did a lot of research in my free time. I took six years of Greek and Latin and took a minor in ancient literature in university. Out of all the mythological characters, Circe was the subject of a large project I did in highschool, so I did a lot of research and am very familiar and in a way attached to her story. What interested me about her, was that she is always a secondary character, appearing in several myths, yet she never gets to tell her own story fully.
This book could go one of two ways: give Circe the story she deserved and steal my heart, or be the biggest disappointment of the year. It could be a great exploration of an underappreciated characters life, or a cheesy retelling of the lovestory between her and Odysseus. I am happy to say it was the former.
There were two things this book absolutely had to nail: the character of Circe and the “feel of mythology”. It succeeds in both.
First of all, Madeline Miller does a phenomenal job of giving Circe a distinct, strong and frankly quite relatable voice. She is the daughter of a God and a Naiad, not quite Goddess, not quite mortal or Titan. She says it herself: “When I was born, the word for what I was did not exist.” This utter loneliness and yet the power to stand on your own resonates throughout the entire book. We follow Circe over the course of her entire life, and her character-arc over this time is beautifully executed. We see so much growth, yet so much consistence in her character. This consistency is the second thing that is highly commendable about this book. Unlike the story of Achilles and Patroclus, the story of Circe in ancient mythology is not a linear one. She makes appearances in random other myths and we don’t see her in between these brief moments. Madeline Miller has succeeded in weaving these loose myths together into a single compelling narrative, that is consistent within itself, even though the source material sometimes is not. Her writingstyle preserves the sense of reading an ancient myth. The scenery, the atmosphere and the themes felt right. Please don’t ask me to objectively explain why, but it was vivid enough that I could almost smell the herbs, see the shores of Aeaea and feel the Greek sun on my face. That combined with the familiar characters making appearances just gave me such a great feeling of nostalgia, while still bringing me a new experience.
I have one small gripes that make me rate it 4.75 stars instead of 5. First of all, there is a significant drop in pacing around ¾ into the book, that quite hindered my enjoyment for a moment. It starts to drag and compared to the rest of the book and in my opinion could have been edited down a bit. It was just a unnecessary thorn in the paw of a lion, as the rest of the story was so great and I wish this would have been picked up in editing.
Despite this minor flaw, this is an amazing book, that I'd 100% recommend. Circe, as portrayed in this novel, currently stands as one of my favorite female characters in literature, and I can see myself revisiting this book many more times for both her as well as the magical world contained in it's pages.
Editors note: the physical copy of this book is by far one of the prettiest things on my shelf. Not only are the copper dustjacket and naked hardback stunning, but the map included on the inside is a true piece of art that wouldn't misstand framed on a wall!
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