I loved Song of Achilles in a way that was surprising to me. Madeline Miller was suggested as an author who works well for someone who is interested in good writing with literary weight that feels a little lighter. Or, not exactly lighter (actually, when you start talking about gods and goddesses, things get quite dark pretty quickly) but something more plot driven, I suppose.
I’m pretty late to these novels, which might mean that I’m enjoying them just in time for a new one to be released! If Madeline Miller writes another novel, I’m sure I’ll pick it up. While I think I enjoyed Song of Achilles slightly more (there was something so compelling about the love story), I really enjoyed the way that Miller explores the character of Circe, who searches for freedom in a world that denies it to her.
I love when a book inspires me to look something up – I’ve learned about conflicts all over the world because of the rich variety of historical fiction that we have available to us, and the wonders of Wikipedia. Miller’s novels have had me wishing that I paid a little more attention to my Edith Hamilton in high school. Alas, time is continuous, moving ever forward, and so I’ll content myself with whatever scraps the internet might offer to supplement my meager education. Basically, I preferred to spoil the larger plot elements of each text just before I read them, which allowed me to better enjoy the way in which Miller maneuvered these characters into position. Their destinies were set thousands of years ago by Homer and Ovid, but the joy of Miller’s novels is that they are not about what the characters have done as much as how they got there.
Circe, before she was known as an incestuous Lannister queen, was a goddess born to Helios and a water nymph. Helios had many children by many different women / female goddesses, but Circe was her mother’s first child of four. Circe is something of an outcast in her family – she has a bit of a soft spot for humanity, which is frowned upon by most gods. She does not appear to be as beautiful or talented as her siblings -until it is discovered that she is a late bloomer. Her family has a natural predilection for witchcraft, and she has the patience to hone that craft. Eventually, she becomes the witch she is known for being in the Odyssey – but by the time that moment arrives, we know Circe to be so much more.
I really enjoyed the world that Miller creates in these novels. She imbues these immortal beings with something more than mortal feelings. They have an icy remove from humanity, and yet they revel in emotions exquisitely. Circe is a daughter, sister, lover and mother – each of these she feels deeply. She is something of a friend (and sometimes a friend with benefits) to other characters, and this relationship is more difficult for her – she is most comfortable with deeply entrenched emotions. She is no romantic, but she does not act impulsively or hedonistically. Circe is aware of her place within the world of the gods – as a nymph, she has so little agency, her whole life is dealt with at the whims of other, more powerful gods and goddesses. But its her lack of interest in her own divinity that makes her so powerful.
I highly recommend Madeline Miller – and will definitely get myself on the library queue when Persephone is released.