Madeline Miller has such a knack for taking characters and legends that we may already know some about, but then delving much deeper into them, allowing us to see a whole other side to the story and person within. There is a particular beauty here in what she does to the story of Circe, giving a minor passing character from a well-known story of another, and giving her the spotlight to show us there is so much more to her story than that of a cameo to some other hero. And despite there maybe not being a big battle or war that is often associated with the heroes of ancient Greek myths, there is a heroism to Circe, in the battles she fights on a daily basis with her family, with the everyday man, and even with her own identity. As such, I find moments of relation to her struggles and the pain she works through during her long existence.
Circe is the story of the minor Goddess, Circe, daughter of the Titan Helios, who never quite fits in with the other Gods and Goddesses, neither of Titan blood nor Olympian. After her skills in witchcraft are found and scapegoated to be dangerous, Circe is exiled to her own island to live out her days. From here we see how she grows in her skills, and finds a role within her existence as a mother and protector. Her involvement within the Odyssey is also expanded upon, and we see much more of her relationship with Odysseus, as well as her place in the life of certain monsters and other Gods from various myths. But while her role in Odysseus’ story is the main one that is known about her, Circe is shown to be so much more than this, as she searches to establish a life and home of her own.
At its heart, Circe is a story about a woman finding her voice after years of being pushed around and told of her lack of worth and beauty for years. It is about pushing back at those who wanted to do nothing more than take from her what they want only to then shove her to the side. It is about love, family, respect, and protecting both yourself and those you care about; it is about the games people play with others when they don’t fear consequence, and how the tides may turn when victims finally resist or find their own ways to push back. It is a long and winding tale, but ultimately finishes with a satisfying end.
The only thing that I could really complain about in this novel would be the pacing. It felt a little sluggish to me at times, and given the large scope of the novel over centuries with large spaces of solitude for the Goddess, I wasn’t quite sure what the end game was supposed to be: she’s a Goddess so won’t she just live on and on? It wasn’t until nearly the end that it all came together for me and I understood what everything was building to. Though despite these small complaints, the beauty of the writing kept everything together and didn’t really diminish my enjoyment of the novel in any sense.
All in all, Circe is a beautiful novel, both gentle yet powerful in its portrayal of a complicated female character. I just love Madeline Miller’s writing style and how she delves deep into the intricacies of personhood. I can’t wait to see what else she endeavors to gift us with in the future.