Have you ever read a book that is so powerful—and so beautiful—that it holds a special place in your memory? If you have, you’re one of the lucky ones. If you haven’t, perhaps you should read Circe.
It recounts the story of the infamous witch Circe, who featured in Homer’s Odyssey; through her, we are exposed to a small portion of Greek mythology, coming face-to-face with figures such as Odysseus, Daedalus, Icarus, Hermes, Athena, and even the Minotour. Yet Circe isn’t just a retelling of tales from Ancient Greece: it is a story about survival. Circe is rejected by her family, not because of some intangible prophecy, but because she is different. As a result of this (and a little witchcraft), she is exiled and sent to live on a desert island. Rather than simply accepting her fate, however, Circe embraces it. What follows is a beautiful exploration into mortality, immortality, and the thin line that separates the two.
Let me say what sorcery is not: it is not divine power, which comes with a thought and a blink. It must be made and worked, planned and searched out, dug up, dried, chopped and ground, cooked, spoken over, and sung. Even after all that, it can fail, as gods do not.Circe | Chapter Seven
There is so much that I loved about this book, but I’ll do my best to sift through my thoughts and provide a coherent review. First of all, it’s important to talk about the sheer power of Madeline Miller’s writing. She successfully merges classical tropes with a more modern style of writing, producing a work that brings ancient mythology back to the modern world. Her descriptions really are mesmerising, and, as you read about Circe’s island-home, you’ll be able to picture its mysterious forests and ferocious creatures, and you’ll be able to sense the raw feeling of claustrophobia which the ocean triggers.
The characterisation in Circe is also noteworthy; Circe is a very three-dimensional character. She is by no means perfect, and although she is a witch, hers is a distinctly human journey. Of course, it can be argued that this journey is purely psychological, and that, as a result of this, the novel can be a little slow at times. I’ll begrudgingly accept this criticism, but only to say that Circe, who spends most of the novel in exile, is isolated in such a way that Miller is able to better explore the inner-workings of her protagonist’s mind. Cut off from the rest of the world, Circe is able to come to terms with who she is, while, at the same time, readers are exposed to her transformation in a very real, climactic way.
If it is not already abundantly obvious, I loved this book. Circe is an intricate, compelling novel filled with rich descriptions and intense characterisation. It is true that some prior knowledge of Homer’s Odyssey might add a little impact to the story, but, in my opinion, it isn’t necessary. This book speaks for itself, and, when it does, it speaks wonders.
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