Oh, how I loved this. I saw everyone’s glowing comments on it on last year’s Cannonball Read, but my TBR pile was so big I couldn’t justify buying a new book. Luckily I made an exception and once I picked it up last week I couldn’t put it down. I have a backlog of reviews I need to write for other books I finished before I finished Circe, but I wanted to review this one first, before my feelings faded.
Miller’s novel is a modern re-imagining of the life of Circe, the mythical Greek witch who pops up in the Odyssey and delays Odysseus on his journey home. I found the start a little slow- it details Circe’s upbringing in the palatial halls of her father, the sun-god Helios- but once her witchcraft is discovered and she is exiled, things really picked up. This is because even in her exile Circe is looped into a number of well-known myths: Daedelus and Icarus, the Minotaur and Perseus, Jason and Golden Fleece, the Trojan War, the Odyssey, etc.. Because the novel is written from Circe’s first-person perspective, we get to see them as she does- sometimes as snippets of news from far away, sometimes as her small role in the overall tale and sometimes as a more involved player.
In addition to writing Circe into these well-known myths, Miller fleshes out a fuller story that didn’t get sung about by Greek choruses: Circe builds her island, takes lovers, has a child and ultimately decides how she wants to frame her existence. It is in this last decision that the novel soars- Circe’s growing awareness of herself, her desires to learn from her mistakes and become something more and better, her defining and redefining of what ‘better’ is- in all of this she is immortal, but not unchanging.