Circe by Madeline Miller, Review by Corinne Donnelly
Circe is one of the earliest sorceresses in classic literature. While Circe has a wide literary history, her most famous appearance is in Homer’s Odyssey. Despite her notoriety, she is only one of many intriguing characters Odysseus and his crew encounter on their voyage. In Circe, Madeline Miller focuses solely on Circe. She writes from Circe’s point-of-view, giving her the opportunity to tell her own story from the beginning.
Time moves quickly for the gods. As the daughter of the Titan, Helios, and the naiad, Perses, Circe is immortal, and it shows in the narrative. There is a wide scope of time from the beginning to the end of the novel. Circe races through her history, mentioning so many characters and events that they often blend together, but not so much to make the plot confusing. Miller wisely slows down the narrative for important moments in Circe’s life.
“I thought once that gods are the opposite of death, but I see now they are more dead than anything, for they are unchanging, and can hold nothing in their hands.”
If you don’t find Circe interesting, you will struggle with this novel. In comparison to a god, humans live short lives. Circe’s abhorrence of her divinity and her fascination with humanity means that she surrounds herself with characters that can only make brief physical appearances. Miller remedies this problem by only focusing on characters that have a large impact on Circe’s story. Even then, they never reach beyond the status of supporting characters. Consequently, the novel is highly descriptive, and most of the story is told through internal narration.
“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.”
The most prevalent theme throughout Circe is the idea of female empowerment. Circe is cast aside by her own mother from birth, and as she grows up she learns that even as a goddess she is not as highly valued as her brothers. As her story continues, Circe must fight for her worth, even in exile, and, in the process, gain much-needed confidence in herself. When she does, she can make her own decisions without fear of judgment and castigation.
Circe by Madeline Miller takes a relatively minor character from a much larger epic and gives her a voice. Circe is much more than one infamous story, and her powers extend far beyond the mere transformation of humans into animals. While enthusiasts of Greek mythology will likely appreciate the novel more than others, you don’t need to be one to enjoy it.