“It is a common saying that women are delicate creatures, flowers, eggs, anything that may be crushed in a moment’s carelessness. If I had ever believed it, I no longer did.”
I seem to be developing a love for character studies – and those about women who strike out on their own, no less.
Madeline Miller’s Circefollows the titular character, sea nymph and daughter of the god Helios, as she lives through key events in Greek mythology – the transformation of Scylla into a monster, the birth of the Minotaur, and the fateful meeting with Odysseus. When she is exiled to the island of Aeaea, Circe hones her burgeoning witchcraft in solitude, content with her magic and her animal familiars. But as Circe meets famous figures in Greek mythology, she finds a closer kinship with mortals than with her own kind.
This book grabbed me from the start and wouldn’t let go. That may be partially due to my love for Greek mythology, which began with Disney’s Herculesand deepened with a college English course with a focus on the Greek myths. The morally-decrepit gods of Greek mythology make for a perfect cast of characters to supplant into your own story, and Miller does this flawlessly with Circe.
There’s something contemplative and alluring about Circe that permeates the entire book, from the sea-soaked settings to the capricious behavior of the gods. Even when the pace slows down, you feel compelled to keep reading, ensnared by the evocative writing. Circe’s point of view is perfectly written, never forgetting that she is an immortal god while bringing her closer and closer to humanity. I don’t think I’ve ever read a POV that is so relentlessly immortal – the way Circe thinks and acts speak to her hundreds of years of life, and the book never lets you forget that.
Another aspect I loved about Circe,as I mentioned above, is that it is, above all, a character study of a woman seeking freedom and independence. When Circe first arrives on Aeaea, her beautiful surroundings and cozy lifestyle lull her into a sense of complacency, making her believe she has some agency in her own exile. As she meets figures from Greek mythology – particularly the trapped Dedalus, the fleeing Medea, and the restless Odysseus – Circe is forced to see her own limitations, and how they prevent her from taking an active role in the lives of the mortals she meets. Her struggle to break free makes for a rewarding read; it is, after all, the age-old struggle of someone who has been looked down upon and abused all their life, and who is clawing for the dignity they deserve.
If you love Greek mythology and all the drama, obscenity, and bloodshed that entails, Circemight be the book for you. If you love character studies that focus on the fight for independence and finding your people, Circeis definitely the book for you.