When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.
–Madeline Miller - Circe - c.2018
I have only read parts of The Odyssey; while I know the general story and many of the episodes I would not say that I know the full story. But I did know the name Circe, although I think I had her story confused with Calyspo’s. Not that I knew either all that well.
But I am familiar with Miller’s work. I loved The Song of Achilles so I knew that I would be reading this; the plot wasn’t important in me choosing to read it, the author was.
Circe, in this book for myths have many variations, is the daughter of the Titan Helios and the nymph Perse. She has no great godlike powers like her father but she is a god. Immortal. Like her brothers and sisters she develops great skills. Witchcraft, and as a result of one of her deeds she is exiled to an island, where she eventually meets Odysseus.
This story is utterly Circe’s. She tells it, she is at the centre, she moves it. Other figures come and go, they create ripples and changes, but it is Circe’s story and her life. And it is wonderful.
I just love Miller’s style of writing. It sucks me in and I just want to keep right on reading until I’ve finished the book. She really creates a wonderful atmosphere and a great character in Circe.
It is a very character driven book. There is action and events, but they matter in that they effect Circe’s life and character. So if you are a fan of plot driven narratives I’m not sure that this is the book for you.
If like me, however, you love getting inside a character and figuring out the world around her, finding out alongside the character who she is and what she wants, then this is totally the book for you.
I also loved Miller’s version of Odysseus. He isn’t in the book a huge amount, although he plays a very important role, but it is a brutal depiction of him as a man. He is no clean-cut honorable hero out of legend. He is a man who does what he must, sometimes some terrible things, in order to survive and to succeed. He is both villain and hero, he certainly has his positive points, but also huge flaws that damage the people around him.
I think that is what I really appreciate about Miller’s work; she writes about people that you can believe in, that you can understand and empathise with. These may be people with the ability to turn you into swine but they are also people with understandable motivations and emotions.
Great book, I’d totally recommend it.