In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.
When love drives Circe to cast a dark spell, wrathful Zeus banishes her to the remote island of Aiaia. There she learns to harness her occult craft, drawing strength from nature. But she will not always be alone; many are destined to pass through Circe’s place of exile, entwining their fates with hers. The messenger god, Hermes. The craftsman, Daedalus. A ship bearing a golden fleece. And wily Odysseus, on his epic voyage home.
There is danger for a solitary woman in this world, and Circe’s independence draws the wrath of men and gods alike. To protect what she holds dear, Circe must decide whether she belongs with the deities she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.
Breathing life into the ancient world, Madeline Miller weaves an intoxicating tale of gods and heroes, magic and monsters, survival and transformation.
So, my first book club! How exciting!
And this month, we read Circe.
Quick thing, how the hell do you pronounce “Circe”? I’ve been saying it “ser-s”, but Ashley says it’s “ser-sey”. Anyone??
Anyway. Moving on… What did we think?
Ashley and I both absolutely adored Circe. We agreed that it was totally un-put-down-able. Having not read a lot of Greek mythology before (because I found what I had read at school rather dull), I was initially dubious. I think it was all the positive reviews which convinced me, in the end. And I’m really happy they did. I have a feeling this book is going to be a classic!
We discussed the role of masculinity in the book, which we felt was a little depressing but did turn things on their head. This was a book full of toxic men: men who used Circe and then either turn on her violently or abandon her once they’ve got what they wanted, who are violent, unreasonable, selfish, or just out to cause chaos. Let’s just say, we’ve all a couple of bad dates… And we could relate… Even Odysseus, who I was initially quite fond of, doesn’t exactly finish up bathed in glory. I thought most of the male characters were quite one-dimensional in that respect. However, where the author does take the time to draw out the story of a male character, like Odysseus or Icarus, the result was complex and challenged the reader’s assumptions. Telemachus, for example, who I think we’re supposed to like… I found him completely boring. Odysseus, for all his faults, I think was the more interesting character. And just sexier. I’m sorry, but he was. It’s a Heathcliff vs Mr Darcy thing…
I was completely in love with Circe herself. She’s a fascinating character, who grows and changes in such surprising ways throughout the book. And we both enjoyed the way other myths were woven into her story for sub-plots and world building. It was very subtly done, and I thought, as a device, gave the whole book real depth and interest.
We felt it was clever how Circe’s mistakes, her fears and insecurities, became her own form of torture. She may have been exiled as a punishment, but the real sentence she handed down to herself.
Circe challenges traditional images of divinity – the idea that gods are “good”, or otherworldly, better than humanity, somehow. Nope. The gods in Circe are just as flawed and complicated as any human. Which, Ashley pointed out, was exactly how the gods are in Greek mythology. The author has very cleverly woven these concepts together, and into a story which forces the reader to re-examine their ideas of divinity and humanity. What would it actually mean to be a “god”, to be immortal and never experience real pain and suffering? Wouldn’t that make you rather cruel in some ways, or indifferent? The idea that there is a purpose to those things, that they might be necessary parts of the human experience, is rather deftly explored through Circe’s explorations of family, loneliness, destiny, and personal growth. There is a beauty in the imperfection and impermanence, which I found very interesting.
I could go on and on about Circe all day, but I think I’ve made my point. It’s beautifully crafted, deeply moving and challenging, and very clever. We both thoroughly enjoyed it, and would highly recommend it.
Oh. And that’s Ashley’s signed copy in the picture. So jelly!!