Circe by Madeline Miller

Hardcover, 400 pages
Published April 10th 2018 by Lee Boudreaux Books

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

 

Madeline Miller’s Circe is an epic that’s sweeping the nation today. Everywhere you turn, you see that magnificent cover (honestly, that cover work is DIVINE and I’ve had the MOST fun photographing it for the Bookstagram). Twitter and Instagram are as we speak packed with Circe references and Miller interviews and, within all of that, Circe has found itself wrapped in all of the fluff and buildup and publicity of a typical ultra-hyped, big-named publisher release. Let’s be serious—most of us LOVE these kinds of releases and all the hysteria involved, even if we shy away from actually reading the hyped release itself. It can be a book lover’s dream–a book with all the fanfare of a blockbuster, silver screen release. I, too, was swept up in the craze, yet another smash hit from the publisher who brought us fan favorites like Twilight and whom I once interned for in London. But, in the end, I couldn’t ride the Circe wave all the way through.

Let’s get one thing clear from the very start: Madeline Miller’s follow up to The Song of Achilles is an epic in the years spanned but not necessarily in the execution. To me, it read far more like a long story than an “epic.” When I think of that four-lettered word, I think of a novel that’s monumental and moving. I think of The Odyssey and sweeping sagas like A Song of Ice and Fire, even novels that are gripping and complex, long and treacherous as a Hajj like A Little Life. But Circe did not touch me in that way. In fact, there were moments—those times when the novel resorted to recounting the tales of the mythology we all know so well rather than putting the reader in the moment of these tales—where I was bored to skimming. In Circe, pages upon pages passed of one character telling another a “story” of others’ happenings, travels and wars: Telemachus telling Circe about Odysseus, Circe recounting the story of Hermes, and on and on. Who wants to hear second- and third-hand about the chronicles of these larger-than-life names within a novel that calls itself an “epic?” I’d rather feel and live the stories of these mortals and gods alike. Wouldn’t you?

Circe’s life is a true saga, and Miller’s research and background in the Classics shines through in this novel and serves her well. But, there are gaps between the breadth and notoriety of the mythology she incorporated here and the skill with which the novel was actually written. There is only so far that building a modern-day epic on the backs of known names and legends could go; Miller needed to take us the rest of the way to make Circe a contemporary wonder, to make this a saga all her own. This novel didn’t quite make it across that bridge for me.

Circe offered up a world full of color, a world of eternal life and leviathans, of clashing gods and witchcraft, all while tying in mythological tales that’ve been handed down for ages. Perhaps it’s only fitting, in that case, that it was overwrought with linguistic hyperbole—The sound was a piercing chaos, like a thousand dogs howling at once…She beat the cliff-side, howling her frustration. This novel was full of both drama and melodrama, only one of which is necessary for a sweeping epic. Yet, I had to appreciate the scale of story Miller told and the breadth of her knowledge in the Classics. Circe was a great story for sure, but I was never fully moved by how it was told. 3.5 stars.***

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Madeline Miller Madeline Miller was born in Boston and grew up in New York City and Philadelphia. She attended Brown University, where she earned her BA and MA in Classics. For the last ten years she has been teaching and tutoring Latin, Greek and Shakespeare to high school students. She has also studied at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and in the Dramaturgy department at Yale School of Drama, where she focused on the adaptation of classical texts to modern forms. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA, where she teaches and writes. The Song of Achilles was her first novel and Circe her second.


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