I’m not sure that a novel or a writer as accomplished as this needs help from a lowly blogger to carve its niche into smart, popular fiction. Madeline Miller reimagines the story of Circe from her point-of-view and makes a fascinating adventure of it.
Most of us grow up with the abbreviated version of ancient myths. The stories of the gods and goddesses, and the mortals who crossed them, can often be distilled into a sentence or two. Prometheus stole fire from Mount Olympus and was punished for eternity. Icarus was too arrogant about his waxwings and it was his undoing. Some of us encountered longer tales of war and wisdom in epics like Iliad and Odyssey. Miller’s novel Circe is more like these epics in scope but is vastly different in its tone, and its narrator.
Circe is the daughter of Helios, the Titan god of the sun, and Perse, a nymph. In the Homeric stories, she is a witch, punished for her jealous behavior by being banished to a deserted island. In her years there, she used her wiles to coax big cats to be her pets. She grew useful, magical herbs, and she provided a haven for sailors, including Odysseus.
In this novel, Circe is a much deeper, and more complicated character. The reader meets her as a child and sees her grow up in the halls of Zeus. She nurses the wounds of Prometheus and watches the gods enjoy their nightly feasts. Not really belonging in either world, she contents herself by being a watchful shadow.
Far beyond his shoulder, my father’s chariot was slipping into the sea. In their dusty palace rooms, astronomers were even now tracking its sunset glory, hoping their calculations would hold. Their bony knees trembled, thinking of the headman’s axe. ~Pg. 1398
When Circe finally gains the attention of Glaucus, and fellow nymph Scylla steals him away, she retaliated by turning her into a six-headed monster doomed to attack wayward sailors. For this, Circe is exiled to the island of Aiaia. It is here that she truly comes into her own.
Readers that were scared off by the length or style of the ancient Greek texts should know this book is incredibly accessible. Told in Circe’s voice, the tone is straightforward, yet loses none of the mystical aspects of a mythological story. At the halfway point, her tone turns from youthful and joyful to dark and vengeful. I was at first thrown off-balance. I then realized Miller had done so deliberately because of a crucial turning in Circe’s story. Miller has written more than a novel; she has drawn a psychological sketch of a previously minor character in the mythological panoply.
Read via NetGalley
By Madeline Miller
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (April 10, 2018)