Once upon a time, I had to act out The Odyssey with a group of friends for my high school English class. I was cast as Circe, the temptress witch that turns men into pigs. This was my first introduction to a much-studied literary character.
Circe by Madeline Miller dives deeper into Circe’s origin story, exploring how she discovered her powers, her tumultuous upbringing, and her interest in mortals.
What Circe gets right: Circe is a goddess who does what she can with what she has. She’s not the strongest, wisest, or most beautiful, but she is definitely the most resourceful. Time and again, even after she makes terrible mistakes and the other gods punish her, she bounces back to try something new. She’s willing to help others, even when she has no one to help herself.
Madeline Miller made a mythological goddess into a relatable character. That’s the power of this novel. The setting and customs are foreign to modern people (and to mortals), but we can relate to Circe as an underdog of sorts.
What Circe gets wrong: Circe definitely has the unreliable perspective that she is a good person (or, at least, a reasonable person), while pretty much all of the other gods and goddesses are immoral. In reality, I’m sure that the others have their reasons for what they have done, just as Circe has hers. She slowly learns more and gains a clearer perspective as she ages.
Circe’s limited narration doesn’t make the book a bad one, but it can be frustrating when she can’t- or won’t- see the whole picture.
Who should read Circe: Anyone who wants a better understanding of Greek mythology. The Titans and Olympians are fleshed-out and more accessible in this narrative than others I’ve read. Readers who don’t like Odysseus, like me (this book exposes his flaws and his crimes after returning to Ithaca).
Who shouldn’t read Circe: Readers who aren’t interested in Greek mythology or fantasy. It does help to have at least a vague understanding of Greek mythology to read this book- maybe read The Odyssey first if you haven’t already.
Content note: language; violence; suggestive scenes that, while not described in detail, include some pretty wild events (remember that this is Greek mythology).
Most book reviews on this blog are written by Olivia Chin and reflect her personal opinions of the books, not the library’s view as a whole.