I am always wary of any new book that comes with lots of hype, but for once (for me!) I’ve found that Circe by Madeline Miller more than lives up to it. I was vaguely familiar with some aspects of Circe’s story (Odysseus, Aeaea, the pigs) but I found it fascinating to begin at the beginning of her story and watch her grow.
Circe suffers an awful lot in her long life and interacts with many famous faces of Greek Mythology and it was gripping to see her warped one way and then another in response to her and others’ actions. Despite being mythical, I found a lot of her feelings to be relatable. I know, obviously, that a lot of our choices would be different if faced with similar (more mortal) events and decisions but I felt that hers felt natural to the personality and behaviours we watch her exhibit over the many years we follow her. Her progression, and digressions, felt believable and natural. A lot of that is due to the writing.
Ah, the writing. Miller is certainly a master at crafting stories. I found Circe to be utterly addictive and immersive. I could picture each scene clearly, feel her outrage and sorrow, smell the pigs and the salty seas, hear the Minotaur roar. I think the writing is what really sets this story apart. In a veritable sea of mythological retellings, Circe stands out as a crisp, concise novel that picks you up and carries you into the whirlwind that was Ancient Greek gods, lands, beliefs and mortals, only to drop you back to Earth with a thud once you reach the end and realise there is no more. Every word has meaning and has been deliberately picked to emphasise each character’s meaning, whether that be malice, pity or admiration.
I feel it grew a bit long in the telling when Telegonus came along, but obviously it was necessary to Circe’s story and it soon picked up again with the later arrivals to Aeaea.
I want to give a nod to the audiobook too as you can see by the picture, I listened to this story via Audible and I really enjoyed it. Audiobooks are a bit hit and miss for me, sometimes they’re gripping and I walk around my home with my phone in my hand desperate to hear what happens next (ahem, Circe) and others I get bored and drag the telling out for weeks or even return it. But this was great. I didn’t want to splash out on a hardback when I wasn’t sure if I would like the story and I’m glad as I did as I loved the audio version. The narrator really took the already great words and ran with the story. She was great at dripping evil and spite into the dialogue and really added to the experience. I highly recommend the audio version if you’re so inclined.
So overall, I really enjoyed this book and I am keen to pick up Miller’s previous work, The Song of Achillies. I really hope she sticks to her theme and picks another mythological figure to explore soon – i’m hoping for Medea and/or Atalanta.