Circe

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 01 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

I loved this, it'll probably be my favourite read of 2019. 

I've never studied classics, just always had a vague interest in mythology, so I was only aware of the Circe character from 'The Odyssey' and from the paintings by John William Waterhouse. Miller expertly melds numerous myths into a fabulous story that is completely Circe's own, and she's such a great relatable character with all the rage, perseverance and empathy you could wish for. Plus, I learnt so much without realising it, I actually have a much better understanding of who's who in the Titan pantheon now and how many of them, the Olympians and other notable lesser known deities are all related! 

Definitely up there with my other recent favourite reads such as Katherine Arden's 'Winternight' trilogy and Naomi Novik's 'Uprooted' - I'll have to check out Miller's first novel now as well, 'The Song of Achilles'. 

(ARC provided by publisher via NetGalley)
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Miller had my heart the day I read THE SONG OF ACHILLES, and CIRCE is no different. Empowering, beautifully written and incredibly sorrowful, CIRCE is the novel to read if you are a fan of Greek mythology and complex characters.
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An amazing book!!! It is great how she incorporates gods and godess in this book. Also have you seen the cover? Circe is beautiful
Madeline Miller is an amazing author! I want to read more books written by her
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Great concept, well executed. But really what actually happens? No real sense of pace until the last chapters.
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My knowledge of Greek mythology is not great. I know who Icarus, Odysseus, Hermes etc are but that is as far as it goes.
So who was Circe? Circe is a goddess, daughter of Helios and Perse. Circe is not quite like other goddesses, she is not traditionally beautiful or willing to conform to the expected role of a Goddess.  She stomps around the halls of her Father's palace bored and aloof, until a day spent roaming the beach she meets a fisherman, Glaucus, a mortal. Circe falls in love and using her skills of witchcraft turns him into a God, hoping they can marry.
Glaucus has other ideas falling head over heels in love with nymph Scylla. Circe is aghast, angry and hurt using her witching powers to turn Scylla into a sea monster destined to terrorise the whirlpool of Charybdis.
Her actions anger the gods, and she is exiled to the island Aiaia. Making good use of her exile Circe hones her skills and knowledge of potions and herbs, knowledge that bode her well as she encounters danger and joy on her island home.
Miller has written what can only be described as a tour de force of Greek Mythology. We meet Odysseus, Hermes, and other less well know greek gods.
The characters are magnificent, Odysseus, strong, handsome, stealing the heart of Circe. There is Telegonus, son of Circe, a wild uncontrollable baby, who becomes a thoughtful, courageous young man and then there is Circe.
Circe is the wilful child, the naive young adult, the Jekyll and Hyde character, who will stop at nothing to protect herself, her island and her child.
I loved that Miller decided to tell Circe's  story as so often Greek Mythology portrays the male Gods. I loved that she was so multi dimensional, Miller expert at highlighting her deep seated flaws as well as her good traits.
The writing itself is powerful, full of fantastic imagery. My favourite has to be Scylla rising from a stormy sea with her multiple heads, determined to feast on the sailors attempting to escape her powerful jaws.
Miller has added her won twist to Circe's story without losing its true origins making it extremely accessible to those who might not relish or indeed want to plough through the original Greek texts.
My only slight criticism is that it can be a little slow, especially at the beginning, and I wasn't overly enamoured with the ending.
Don't let this put you off as this is a wonderfully written and highly engaging literary novel.
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As delightful to read as The Song of Achilles was - something to savour for classics fans, and a great introduction for those dipping a toe into mythology.
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I absolutely adored The Song of Achilles so I was very much looking forward to this one, especially because out the hype, sadly though I was disappointed. I'm sure this book is amazing and may give it another try one day, but I just ended up skimming the last half of it because I had 0 interest.
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Beautifully lyrical and atmospheric. You are pulled right into the home of the Gods and it's an absolutely mesmerizing world!
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Since I was a big fan of Madeline Miller’s “Song of Achilles” I’ve been so eager to read her latest novel that reimagines the life of another Greek mythological figure. It did not disappoint. Circe’s most famous role in the myths (and my only prior knowledge of her) was as a magical goddess/sorceress who hosts Odysseus amidst The Odyssey and transforms some of his sailors into swine. Miller tells Circe’s story from her origins as the nymph daughter of the Titan sun god Helios and the Oceanid nymph Perse, a vain and negligent mother. She has a lonely early life as her appearance and voice are scorned by the immortals surrounding her. Her natural propensity for kindness and compassion is tempered by the darker cruelties and vanity of the gods as well as the shallowness and relentless ambition of humans. After being banished and experiencing so much heartache it’s understandable that Circe becomes hotly bitter, intensely lonely and decides to foster her own innate power to fight for what she wants and what she feels is right. In a sense, Miller does for Circe what Gregory Maguire did to the Wicked Witch of the West. Their stories take a figure who is scorned and branded a witch in popular culture and gives them back their humanity. “Circe” is also a finely crafted story that’s truly romantic and thrilling in its many adventures.

One important thing I’d stress is that if you aren’t already familiar with the many Greek myths Miller touches on throughout the novel, don’t look them up before you finish it. Otherwise, it will spoil the plot. At a few points I became curious about some details of a mythological figure I wasn’t aware of so I looked on Wikipedia to find out more and inadvertently spoiled the story for myself. Of course, plot isn’t the most important aspect of a novel and I know its somewhat silly to claim a tale that’s thousands of years old can be spoiled but take this caution if you want to remain in suspense about how a particular storyline will play out. It did feel at some points that there wasn’t a need for Miller to reference quite so many mythological stories. It was as if she tried to cram them all in or that Circe was bragging about having a connection to famous figures. But this is my only light criticism of this novel and the unique interpretations and relationships formed between all these stories is always compelling.

It’s so interesting how Miller writes about the way the gods and adventurous humans are very cognizant that their actions will lead to stories being told about them. It’s analogous to the way some people today only do certain things in order to post a picture or vlog about it on social media. Although the deities are immortal and can recall these stories, the humans need bards to capture their tales and relate them in a way that many future generations on will still be impressed by their accomplishments and dramatic clashes. Miller highlights how these bards and poets often have a misogynistic point of view: “Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.” It’s so refreshing to see a range of women from these myths given a fuller complexity in both their heroism and villainy. Figures like her relentlessly cruel sister Pasiphae or the hot-tempered Madea are vividly realised. One thing I found particularly striking is the relationship that develops between Circe and Penelope as their encounter would typically be portrayed as one of rivalry, but instead what we get is a hard-won and sympathetic bond between them.

Something that makes Circe stand out as remarkable for her time is that she’s incredibly passionate and desires to have love in her life, but not if she’s just going to be seen as a commodity. She ominously notes “Brides, nymphs were called, but that is not really how the world saw us. We were an endless feast laid out upon a table, beautiful and renewing. And so very bad at getting away.” Circe refuses to be used and she's prepared to fight. When men sexually attack her she uses her magic to defend herself. As a consequence she’s labelled as difficult and a witch. But Miller also shows a really heartrending psychological complexity to Circe’s reaction to being raped. For sailors she meets after she states “I might take him to my bed. It was not desire, not even its barest scrapings. It was a sort of rage, a knife I used upon myself. I did it to prove my skin was still my own. And did I like the answer I found?”

However, as Miller demonstrated in her previous novel, she can also beautifully capture the heights of romance. The text is infused with such a striking intensity of feeling when Circe finds love and the vulnerability this raises for a lonely individual: “in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth.” She is so good at capturing all the great adventure and drama of these classic tales but infusing them with emotions which are immediate and real. Unsurprisingly, when references are made to Achilles it feels like the author treats him with particular affection. But Circe is such a compelling figure in her own right that I wanted to spend even more time reading about the centuries she spends living in the paradise and prison that is her island of Aiaia.
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What can I say about this book?

It was beautifully written (what else have I expected), it made me want to climb into it and live with Circe on Aiaia as a witch, and I pleaded for a happy end like a maniac. As a big fan of „The Song of Achilles“, I expected to like this book, but it was a statement of Feminism and selflove, understanding and motherhood and I LOVED it.

We all were introduced to greek mythology in our life, one way or another. But never as devastatingly beautiful and enchanting like Madeline Miller does.

All begins with the childhood of Circe, how everyone in her life betrayed and shaped her, an how she found her true self - in herself. I don’t want to tell you too much about the story, because you should let yourself get bewitched without my story telling ;)

But expect nymphs, thunderbolts, Odysseus and the Minotaur to be there - just as you will expect, or not? I thought I knew the story of Circe, of Odysseus and Daedalus, but Madeline Miller reshaped the storylines I knew and weaved them to a fantastical journey of witchdom and hate, love and betrayal, power and beauty and I loved what she did to it. Circe is one of the strongest and most wonderful characters I've ever met in a book and has the power to be a role model for all the girls and mothers on earth!

Also spoiler warning: You’ll get to see some glimpses of Achilles again ;) I loved all the characters with their flaws and how self reflective and calm Circe was. Maust read - modern writing with an ancient feeling - and one of the best books I’ve ever read. Count me in for the next book !!!
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I enjoyed this immensely.  I love reading about Greek myths and legends and this really brought them to life - the gods were not a nice lot!  I liked Circe and was glad she chose the ending she did.
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Circe was one of my most anticipated releases for 2018, because Miller's debut The Song of Achilles is one of my all time favourite books. Circe includes a lot of Ancient Greek myths; the tension between Titans and Olympians, feuds and dalliances between gods, Daedalus, Ariadne and the birth of Minotaur, Jason and Medea, and even Achilles and Patroclus get a mention, and of course, Odysseys and his involvement with Circe. I liked reading these myths as retellings through Circe's immortal eyes.

Maybe it was just me, because so many seems to love Circe, but I couldn't connect with Circe as a main character. First she's so naive and a little bit spineless when it comes to her family and the Olympians; it was almost impossible to connect that Circe to the legendary witch of Aiaia. Then there's a twist when Circe snaps and becomes ruthless witch who cares nothing for men, gods and sea nymphs. It's abrupt change and while the naive Circe frustrated me at times, I could barely stand her after she becomes the legend I knew. However, there's few times when I liked Circe and rooted for her; when she meets Prometheus at the beginning, and when she spends time with Daedalus and Ariadne.

What kept me going was curiosity. Miller is a good writer and she can bring myths and legends alive. Circe might not have awoken such emotional response from me that The Song of Achilles did, but it was a solid retelling that included many well known myths from Ancient Greek. I admit that I had high expectations and I was prepared for similar emotional rollercoaster that The Song of Achilles put me through, even when I knew I've always been more invested in Ancient Greek tales of adventure, romance and war than tales of Circe and witchcraft.

Anyway, there was both moments that captivated me and moments when I was bored and disconnected from the story. This is mostly case it's me and not the book, because so many have embraced and loved Circe. If you find the premise interesting and you love myths and legends, I highly recommend Circe.
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So, I was really scared to read this book. I LOVED Song of Achilles and was worried about this having the ever-so-common trouble of second-novel-itis. Plus, it's got to be hard to follow a prize-winning and beloved book. I put it off and off and then off some more.

I absolutely need not have worried. Whether you read this as a standalone or a companion book to SOA, whether you have knowledge of Greek mythology or not; there will definitely be things to like about this book. Or even love, as in my case.

This novel takes a character who has a minor role in the Odyssey - Circe - and runs with it. Someone who could be seen to be a plot device in the original myth becomes a truly fleshed out character - we get to see things from her point of view, understand her and root for her.

Speaking as someone who read and loved both the Odyssey and Illiad whilst at school, it was great to see the female perspective on tales that were told with such a strong male-led narrative; much like in Margaret Atwood's 'The Penelopiad'. Essentially, this is the story of a woman fighting for her right to be heard - and even exist - in a patriarchal society that wants to silence her. But, even if you don't want to read something that could feasibly be described as 'feminist' literature, there's a great story at the heart of this novel; backed by the ripping yarns that were and are Greek myth.

Though it starts off slowly, establishing Circe's character and - for want of another term - backstory; you'll soon find yourself pulled into the rich and exquisitely-written world that Madeline Miller has woven...finding yourself wanting to just read another page, chapter and so on, until you have finished the book, sated but desperately wanting more. 

This was also a recent pick for a book group I attend, read by people with a variety of reading tastes, speeds and of different ages and this was enjoyed by everyone. If you're on the fence with this one, give it a shot - with witchcraft, mythology, drama and a dash of romance and family struggles, you're unlikely to regret it!
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A gripping retelling of Ancient Greek myths, this book delves deeper into the witch Circe. This was one of the most enjoyable books I have picked up this year and was incredibly difficult to put down. 

10/10
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*4.5 stars*

Fierce, magical, and utterly captivating. It was so good to get such a story for a character that we see weave in and out of the stories of other, mostly male, characters in Greek mythology.

I do feel like I love The Song of Achilles a smidge more though, so I couldn’t give it 5 stars.
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I really liked the premise of "Circe", but unfortunately the writing wasn't for me.

The novel is really slow paced and the writing style definitely took some time getting used to, but my main problem with the book was that Circe is a rather passive character in her own story. She becomes slightly more proactive towards the end but, for the most part, stuff just happens around her and to her instead of because of her. 

The most interesting stories don't actually happen in real time in the novel, but are instead told to her by other characters who witnessed them. It was rather frustrating.

Overall, the mythology aspect of the novel is really interesting, but the novel itself is too slow-paced to really do anything with it.
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Such a rich, intriguing, gorgeous read! The story is Miller’s adaptation of Ancient Greek myths/tales, tied neatly and seamlessly together, providing plot and motivation and depth to her main character. Scylla, the Minotaur, Odysseus, Penelope, Daedalus, Hermes, Athena, Prometheus, Medea and Jason are only some of the characters that feature here. Unravelling how she has fitted this all together is a real treat. Most of the stories are recognisable to us, but Miller’s spin on it adds a breath of fresh air and a quality of shiny newness to them as they pivot around a fully fleshed out Circe. Miller’s Circe is a mild, gentle yet determined goddess that has been subject to horror and deep disappointment and remained strong and standing. Circe is Helios and Perse’s daughter, a witch, nymph and goddess who is not entirely comfortable with her divinity and propensive to passivity. Her every action is motivated by deep emotions and after a thousand years Miller’s Circe finally comes to a profound resounding understanding of herself (she is not an arrogant, self possessed goddess but one on the very mortal journey in search of herself).

The key to this novel’s success is indubitably its incredibly beautiful poetic language (wonderfully wordy!) This must be a lovely book to listen to (so many little nuggets of pure poetry, “smooth as surf-rolled shell”) All the senses are alive and vibrating in the prose (almost as if on a higher level, like you would presume a goddess to feel and think and be aware. “My grandfather Oceanos smelled deep as rich river mud, and my father like a searing blaze of just-fed fire. Prometheus’ green moss scent filled the room.”)

And yet, Circe’s magical powers are very human, earthbound, tied in with nature and the mortal world – with drudgery. Her witchery is this what makes her such an accessible goddess. “Let me say what sorcery is not: it is not divine power, which comes with a thought and a blink. It must be made and worked, planned and searched out, dug up, dried, chopped and ground, cooked, spoken over and sung. Even after all that, it can fail, as gods do not. If my herbs are not fresh enough, if my attention falters, if my will is weak, the draughts go stale and rancid in my hands.” 

This is not a proud goddess, easily offended and seeking to cause trouble. Miller has created a Circe capable of selfless love, attached to the solitude and silence of her island and to her lovers, a brave and fearless mother.
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Ancient of Lays, vibrantly and powerfully brought to life

Madeleine Miller’s first book, The Song of Achilles, was a standout, stunning read. So it was with a mixture of trepidation and delight that I embarked on this, her second, Circe.

Within a few sentences I settled back with a huge sigh of surrendering relief, as it was clear from the off that the very high bar Miller had set for herself with her working of the story of Achilles was going to be equalled by Circe.

I can’t say this book is better than that one, or that one than this. In truth, she has sung another magical song for Circe.

There won’t be any surprises in the narrative, not for anyone enamoured of Ancient Greece – what do we call it, mythology? history?

Here again is part of the story laid out in Homer

Circe is in sharpest relief as part of Odysseus’ task/journey. She is the daughter of Helios, one of the Titans – older, more archaic and unpredictable gods, who were overthrown by the Olympians. Circe, who transgressed in some way, end up banished to an island. Her story connects with Odysseus as she is a witch/some kind of punitive goddess, and turned Odysseus’ sailors, and other sailors, into swine. Odysseus ‘tricks’ her, or is wise enough to be alert to how her spell happens (just don’t drink wine offered by witches)

But there is a lot more to Circe’s connections with these ancient lays, Jason, Medea, Theseus, the Minotaur, Ariadne, Prometheus and more, all have stories which touch hers 

Miller, who I think is shaping up – if not exceeding, the carrying of Mary Renault’s mantle, breathes vibrant, relevant life into these tales of long ago.

She is immersed, as someone who went the academic route into the study of classical Greece, in her research. But, she is a transformative, magical, inspired writer. Either she knows the spells to get the Muses to descend, or she has inherited Circe’s special magical gift of ‘transformation’ because this gripping, intense, lush story springs off the page, and I have to say this ‘real’ world felt a flatter, colour leached one, compared to the enduring power of those classical times

I really cannot recommend this highly enough. Narrative, character, thought provoking substance and a skill with the craft of writing itself, all are superb.

I have to say that those Ancient Greeks have exerted a strong pull on me since childhood – mythic, archetypical, speaking to powerful collective unconscious depths. They are so much more than ‘fantasy’ And Miller, as a writer, gets those hairs up on the back of the neck shivers in this reader, echoing what some of those ancient sites in Greece do.

I was delighted to read this as an ARC from Netgalley. 

Circe, in Miller’s telling, might easily be a Sister. Even though there is ONE bit of skulduggery against a prettier nymph, but, oh she realises her fault
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Born a Titan, daughter of the sun-god Helios, and immortal Circe does not share the godlike traits of her siblings.  She develops a skill for spells and falls in love with a mortal man, turning him into a god for her to love.  When Glaucus rejects her for another she curses her and turns her into a monster, Scylla.  Banished from the world because of this Circe's punishment is to live in exile on a small island called Aiaia.  Even in exile Circe is not alone, fathers sent their nymph daughters to her for punishment and her family and the Gods call on her, but it with mortals that Circe learns vengeance and also love.

Weaving together many familiar Greek myths as well as Homerian legend, Circe is a triumph of storytelling.  When that is coupled with poetic and beautiful prose then the book becomes something to savour and enjoy.  Miller is a wonderful writer, her words are hypnotic yet the narrative is clear.  She manages to include so many stories that the reader knows, placing her heroine in the centre, yet her rendering of the Odysseus myth is bother tender and also completely modern.  I liked the previous book (The Song of Achilles) and I loved this one.
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I really enjoyed Circe - while I hadn't read The Song of Achilles before this, I had heard good things about her writing. The book delved into themes of mortality, mythology, femininity and motherhood, all of which were lusciously and beautifully described. Sometimes the book moved a bit slow for my liking, but I enjoyed all of the mythological references as well as the life of what may be called the original witch in literature.
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