CBR Bingo – Mythic
I bought Madeline Miller’s Circe in hardback, which I almost never do. I didn’t even know much about the book, except it was a bestseller, which doesn’t always count for much. But I was happy to discover that the book’s success was well-deserved. It even made me happy that so many had read and enjoyed it—it is that magical.
Circe is a compulsively readable novel about the life of the goddess Circe. I read a lot of myths when I was a child, and read The Odyssey in college, but I only vaguely remembered Circe’s story. I’m glad for that, because it made the book that much more interesting. Not knowing the details of her story made the plot unfold like one of Circe’s colorful, hand-woven pieces.
Circe is a nymph and goddess who is the daughter of the sun god Helios. Her eyes are yellow and her voice thin like a mortal’s. She is neglected by her parents and despised by two of her siblings, while the third is indifferent to her love for him. Circe takes all this in as if it was no more than she deserved. She worships her father, constantly hoping for the praise that never comes.
After turning a love rival into a monster, her father exiles her to the island Aiaia. There, Circe relishes her solitude and begins to come into her own as a powerful witch. She can create any manner of spells, potions, and herbal mixtures from the flowers and plants of the island. She lives in a spacious house provided by her father that never runs out of food or other accouterments of living. She tames a lion and other animals as her companions. As an immortal goddess, hundreds of years pass over the course of the book, and the time she spends on her island is a beatific one until humans intrude on her world.
One day, the solider and leader Odysseus comes to her shore. He is witty and well spoken. She finds herself bewitched by him and agrees to spare him if he becomes her lover. Circe is drawn to his ability to tell stories more than anything, although he is also handsome and clever. Odysseus eventually leaves, but Circe is pregnant with their child. In a somewhat refreshing twist, instead of being placid and perfect, her son is furious and difficult. He cries and wails all the time and seems to hate everything. Nonetheless Circe fiercely loves and protects him from the malevolence of other gods. Eventually her son grows up into a curious, kind young man who longs to travel beyond the island to see his father.
Her son travels to Ithaca to seek out Odysseus, and meets his wife and son. A tragedy follows, and the son and wife come to stay with Circe and her son. In time Circe sees that Odysseus was also a cruel, bloodthirsty tyrant, something she had always seen in the stories he told, but had minimized. The ending, which I don’t want to give away, is perfect.
Circe is touching and fierce. It features pain, love, and mortality. One of the things that is really fun about this book is it’s full of stories of other gods and mortals. The story of Icarus, Jason and the Minotaur, Medea, and others make an appearance. It is beautifully written in an accessible way, so I gulped the book down in no time. Miller tells Circe’s story with vivid language, great plotting, and emotional depth. I loved this book and plan to read her book The Song of Achilles in the future. If you want a book that sweeps you away, this is the one.