I pre-ordered Madeline Miller’s Circe on learning its publication date, and then couldn’t bear to read it for months in case it turned out to be not as good as I wanted it to be. I loved loved loved her The Song of Achilles, so I was hoping for great things of this second novel, more ancient Greek myth retold with modern sensibilities and care for the cultural and emotional areas that have been overshadowed for too long by the Victorian men who held the Classical gates against the masses.
It’s OK: I loved Circe too. I think it’s a better novel than The Song of Achilles, because it doesn’t contain the structural flaw of its predecessor (too spoilerific to mention here but it has to do with the narration of the last bit). Circe also gains in novelty and interest because its source materials are far less well known than those about Achilles and Patroclus. Circe appears as a character in the Odyssey, but really not for very long, and we don’t hear a lot about her opinions, or her version of Odysseus’ rather long visit. In Circe the novel, we hear it all, from the very beginning of the world, right through an astonishing number of well-known myths in which Circe is present, or is visited by their protagonists. If you’re exiled to an island, you get visitors, of course. Miller is an expert at patching and darning the holes in what Greek classical myths have handed down to us, and she creates a deeply satisfying story of a junior goddess who has never been popular, but has the hidden strengths and skills to make her own way in the world, despite her exile.
The principal theme of the novel is that the gods are all monsters and appalling inhumane creatures, which makes perfect sense. Circe is not inhumane, except when she has darn good reason, so she is a heroine, and a magnificent one to read and reread. Definitely a novel for keeps.
3 thoughts on “Madeline Miller’s Circe”
I’ve just read this as well, but haven’t read the Song of Achilles – and loved it too. I particularly liked what she did with Penelope. There was a lot to think about here, not least that there seems to be a mini trend for retelling these myths from a feminine perspective (Pat Barker’s new book, and Atwood’s Penelopiad are the ones I know about) which is probably overdue.
Pat Barker’s new book is definitely part of the current (excellent) fashion, but I think the Penelopiad is some years old now. And Mary Renault (though not particularly a feminine retelling), and Naomi Mitchison before her, did this too.
I should read the Mary Renault Books, I find I can’t read Naomi Mitchison however hard I try. The Atwood is 2005, and I think I first read it about then, I thought there were echoes of it in Millers book, so reread The Penelopiad yesterday. They’re very different but I’m assuming Miller had it somewhere in mind whilst she was writing, because they feel complimentary in an answer to a question sort of way. I’m curious to read the new translation of the Odyssey as well.