Book Review – Circe by Madeline Miller

This book was not on my TBR. I’d heard of it, thanks to my work in libraries; there was a lot of buzz around Circe when it first came out. Co-workers raved, it made several awards lists that season, and patrons kept checking it out. And yet, it never once lured me to add it to my To-Be-Read list.

And then my school’s staff book club chose it for its Fantasy Month. Despite my misgivings about it not really being a fantasy novel, I read it all the way to the end. My book club hasn’t met yet to discuss it, but I’m ready to share my thoughts here.

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars

circe book cover

Circe is the story of the Witch of Aiaia, daughter of Helios, exiled for eternity. She turned evil men to pigs, loved Daedalus, and Odysseus, and later Telemachus. She’s a figure from Greek Mythology, and this book is her first person account of her life.

The problem is, I had no idea who she was before I started this book. You see, the last time I studied mythology was my sophomore year of high school. We read Edith Hamilton and I remember hating it. Sixteen year old me found mythology so incredibly boring I blocked out all memory of the entire unit. Which really did me a disservice because this whole book HINGES on the reader knowing the bare minimum of who the F*&K Circe is! I missed out on a ton of dramatic irony and tension because I literally knew NOTHING about Circe going into this book. Whoops!

What I loved about this book:

  • The writing! Madeline Miller’s prose is absolutely gorgeous and I frequently had to stop and reread lines that took my breath away. The novel is extremely atmospheric and I appreciated how she brought these deities to life.
  • I really liked how Miller wrote Circe’s love for the various men in her life. She described them with details that showed Circe’s affection, that the way she saw them proved her love. It was beautiful.

What I didn’t love:

  • Um… the whole plot? It meandered and not a whole lot happened. Circe spent most of her time moping around and being extremely passive. She didn’t actually become an active character until she suffered at the hands of some stranded dudes who attacked her. She then takes her vengeance on pretty much all men by turning them into pigs. She doesn’t settle down until Odysseus charms her into freeing his men and sleeping with him. Which in hindsight is pretty wack.
  • The pacing. It felt very one note until the last 80 pages or so, when more characters showed up and started interacting with Circe. Looking back I think that was intentional, that Circe let her self-worth be so wrapped up in others for so long, but damn was that a looooong story to get through for her to grow.

I gave this book a 4/5 star rating pretty much purely because of the sheer beauty of the writing. For instance, “But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.”

Or perhaps, “He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.”

Those are just the two examples that came to me off the top of my head and I love them. They are gorgeous. Profound. The constellation one in particular hit home while I was reading.

So, my final verdict is this: a gorgeous book that’s just a little too slow for my taste. I like an atmospheric read for my short fiction, but expect a bit more punch for my novels apparently. I’m reading Gideon the Ninth right now, which more than makes up for what Circe lacked in grit, so I’ve got that going for me.

If I get City of Ghosts finished before the end of the weekend I might eke in a book review for it. If not, I’ll talk at you all on Monday!

‘Til then, Blogland!

 

BZ