Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller – AFTER THE LAST PAGE
- Madeline Miller
- Author of The Song of Achilles
- 385 pages
- Greek Mythology
- Titan/Olympic Gods
- Reimagining of The Odyssey Characters
- Multiple Awards
- Rated Best Novel of the Year
In the reimagining of characters from The Odyssey, Madeline Miller brings to life Circe, a goddess born to the Titan god of the sun, Helios. From the minute of her birth, Circe is a disappointment to her father. She is the most unattractive of his children, powerless, and disobedient. He finds her to have qualities of the mortal world and claims that she will amount to nothing.
As Circe grows in her father’s kingdom, on the island of Colchis, she comes to realize that she is completely forgotten. No one pays attention to her or what she does, so long as she doesn’t offend anyone. Circe quickly learns to turn to the world of mortals for companionship, where there are no rules or intimidation tactics. As Circe is thrown into relationships with mortals, she learns she does have powers after all—the power of witchcraft, where she can transform men into gods or swine.
Threatened by her newfound power, Helios goes to Zeus, who decides to banish Circe to the island of Aaia for eternity. Though meant as punishment, Circe thrives on the island and hones her witchcraft while crossing paths with many famous mythological figures, such as Daedalus, Hermes, and Odysseus.
Circe’s story embodies danger, feminism, and the struggle to safely be an independent woman in a male-dominated world. Torn between the world she comes from and the mortal world she admires, Circe must make difficult decisions that will test her strength and the powers she has come to develop.
- 4.5/5 Stars
As I started reading this book, I had seriously considered putting it down. The first few chapters were a bit difficult to get through, especially to those of us who aren’t familiar with the Titan gods. As someone who mostly has a knowledge of only the Olympians, I struggled to place the characters into the plotline. Yet, I have a 50-page rule and I kept reading, knowing the reviews of this book were just that good—and I’m glad I did.
There’s a good reason why Madeline Miller’s Circe has drawn the attention of The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Guardian, among others. Winning numerous awards, this novel embodies something powerful beyond witchcraft: Circe’s ability to transform herself. Circe comes from a male-dominated world where she is constantly controlled and belittled. As she is given the space of Aaia, away from the pressures of her family and Greek society, she has the ability to conform to who she wants to be.
Circe is seen as weak, or stubborn, for seeing the good in mortals and for not being as self-serving as her titan counterparts. In a world where Gods and Goddesses are selfish and only see what benefits them, Circe is open-minded and seeks for the best outcome in life, regardless of god or mortal. I think one of the things I loved most about her character was her undying determination. No matter how many years had gone by, or what struggles she went through, Circe continued to persevere because she felt she had to be strong. She was left alone, let down by everyone in her life, and she continued to keep going, not knowing what was in her future (or if anything was in her future) for the sake of continuing on only.
Circe is one of the strongest feminist characters I’ve ever read about. I thoroughly enjoyed her story, and I found it to be inspiring and enlightening. No matter the hardships her family or the world puts her through, she keeps going and she finds a way.
A couple of notes about things I enjoyed. Firstly, I love how Madeline Miller ends each chapter. There’s something significant and powerful about the language she chooses as she ends each chapter of the novel. This device makes the reader not only want to continue reading, but it also alludes that Circe is going to continue, as well, no matter how difficult that chapter was in her life.
Another aspect of this book I really enjoyed was Circe’s relationships with men. Each relationship she has is flawed, and she realizes that. While she wants to connect and fantasize about her life with each man that she falls for, she continues to support herself first. I think this is a characteristic that many women (and men) would admire, as it’s very difficult to take yourself out of a situation knowing how attached you’ve grown to someone. Whether it be someone she falls in love with, or a man in her family that she loves, Circe continues to put herself first and make the best of every situation, no matter how it might affect her emotions.
Though, I’ll admit, I’ve never read The Odyssey, there were so many fascinating things to learn from Madeline Miller’s retelling and her version of Circe’s story. I truly loved everything about this novel and the ending is absolute perfection. If you get the chance to read this one, I highly recommend it.