Circe is the daughter of Helios, God of the sun, but this has not protected her from the centuries of pain and humiliation she has experienced at the hands of relatives and friends of the family. Her own mother shows scorn for her from the very start, and every time she finds solace in something, fate cruelly snatches it away.
One day she casts a spell in order to feel the love she has been so lacking, and it has catastrophic consequences. As a result, she is exiled to the island of Aiaia where she is doomed to live her days alone. Or so she expected. It turns out her life becomes richer and more interesting than anything she could have experienced in the halls of the Gods and she begins to get a feel for her own identity.
Ancient myths become Circe’s backstory as Madeline Miller effortlessly weaves her tale, intertwining all of these familiar characters together. Daedalus, Zeus, Hermes, Athena to name but a few – all of these well-known names grace the pages of this epic story, and I was not disappointed with the result.
The character development is excellent, as we essentially witness Circe transforming from a caterpillar into a butterfly before our very eyes. This transformation is not instantaneous either, as it can be in some stories. Instead, we see Circe develop over thousands of centuries, attempting to learn how to be herself and live with her regrets.
Whilst reading this book, it becomes clear that Miller has done her research. She writes like an expert and it almost felt like Circe’s autobiography. The only problem I found with the writing was that, on occasion, it felt academic, which led me to feel as though I was reading a textbook. However, this would soon subside as Miller launched into the next exciting portion of the story.
Miller also tackles themes of motherhood, feminism and mortality expertly. She questions why men could rape nymphs and kill the heirs of kings with no consequences, which history often fails to do. There is rape and extreme gore included in this book, so if you find it particularly difficult to read about these topics, then I would suggest avoiding it.
If you feel you could read this book though, I definitely urge you to, as Miller strips down the glory of our childhood favourite myths, and reveals how each one has a sinister background. I will definitely be reading The Song of Achilles, Miller’s previous novel, sometime in the future.
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