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Book Review: Circe – Madeline Miller

Wow. Just wow. This is my response if you’d ask me to explain what this book made me feel in one word. I finished it a couple of days ago and had to take a break to really think about what I want to say in the review. Because WOW! Lol. I’m going to have to try to explain what I mean with that, but first…

The Synopsis

Honestly, I can’t think of a way to explain what this is about that would not give everything away (and not take me five days to write), so I have to add the Goodreads synopsis here:

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

My Review

So, this book was part of the #Hypeathonreadathon and it took both Ellie and me a good few weeks to finish. Which might sound strange because we both really liked it! On my paperback cover there’s a quote by Ann Patchett which says:

“An epic spanning thousands of years that’s also a keep-you-up-all-night page-turner.”

I can definitely agree that this is an epic that spans thousands of years – as that’s the lifetime of the main character, Circe. However, it’s definitely not one that makes you want to stay up all night (or at least it was neither for me nor Ellie lol). Why? Well, definitely not because it was bad. It’s not that. It’s just SO MUCH information – all the gods -the Titans, Olympians, nymphs, mortals; all their wars, relationships, the killings, the romances, the intrigues – it’s just too much to take in in just a day.

At the same time I’m convinced that this is the kind of book that needs to be savoured – and not rushed through. (Now that I’m holding the book in my hands again I see that there’s also a quote by The Guardian on the backcover calling it “an airy delight, a novel to be gobbled greedily in a single sitting.” It feels very strange to disagree again, but I have to admit that I do.)

The Characters

Even though we meet so many different characters in this novel, we spend most of the time with Circe alone. As she is, too. She’s a very lonely character for a very long time; even though she has so many siblings and a big ‘family,’ so to speak, she doesn’t really have a close relationship to any of them, which made me very sad, especially in the beginning. When she falls in love for the first time, she gives her everything for him, and ends up dissapointed. I have the feeling that this is very characteristic for Circe. She’s a very selfless character, at least for most of the first half (or more) of the book.

When she is banished to a desert island soon after having discovered that she is not just a simple ‘nobody’ in their world of gods and power (as everyone thought), but does indeed have a certain power herself (the power of witchcraft), Circe begins to change. She learns to control her power, even if it takes a while (but that’s not really a problem, as for Circe, time is eternal).

I loved seing her grow, become more self-sufficient and independent. I think Circe might be the character that goes through the biggest character development I’ve ever read about! In the end she is such a strong female character – it made me so proud of her to see how much she’s grown after all the things she’s been through!

During the centuries, Circe comes across many famous mythical characters you will have heard about already: Icarus, the Minotaur, Medea, Odysseus and many, many more. I loved this. I was always interested in (Greek) mythology, it just always felt like too big of a ‘mountain’ of knowledge to ever get on top of. Even though I might not be able to retell you the whole of Circe’s story now, I still feel like I have understood a big part of the general story after reading this.

The good thing is that with Circe, it doesn’t feel like you’re reading a history book for school. It’s way more fun than that. Of course, the mountain of information doesn’t lessen, but it’s easier to grasp when you read about it like this I’m sure (even though at times, especially in the beginning, I did feel a bit – thinking to myself ‘Okay, who is this again now?’)

The ending of the book was worth all the confusion a million times, though. Madeline Miller has managed to actually show such a complex story in such a beautiful and vivid way that in the end, I felt like I was on the island with Circe (and maybe someone else?). I loved the beautiful writing, the way this longing for love and a deep connection that Circe feels throughout the centuries is portrayed.

My Rating

The ending made me want to give this book 5 stars, but I didn’t quite love it that much before the middle, so I think I will settle with 4 stars. This is definitely worth a read, but I would suggest you don’t try to read (or plan on reading) it in one sitting. The beauty of the writing and the complexity of each character’s life deserves that, I think.

Have you picked up Circe yet (I know I’m a bit late to the party)? Please let me know what you thought of it!

Thank you all so much for reading!

xoxo
Noly

11 thoughts on “Book Review: Circe – Madeline Miller

  1. Brilliant review, Noly! I gave this book 4 stars as well. The writing is just incredible, and although there is not a huge amount of plot, Circe is so compelling that she makes up for that.
    And I agree with you, reading this book in one sitting would have been a bit too much to take in!

    1. Thank you so much, Stephen! It‘s hard to rate books like this one because they are epic (in all meanings of the word) but at the same time as you say, a lot to take in. Thank you so much for reading😊

  2. Yes I really enjoyed this book too. Can’t be easy to reimagine the life of an immortal goddess and put it into a form that’s believable but Madeline Miller has achieved it. One of the best of the recent slew of Greek mythology novels.

    Also a good review, nice to see a sensible use of star ratings.

  3. I keep going back and forth: “Do I want to read this?” But your post was enough, and it is settled. The trigger words for me: beautiful writing, complexity (of character development), and Greek mythology. I know I’ve read books that have given me the same response as you have to Circe, and I love that. At first, you are speechless; but over time your experience will grow and develop, and then you’ll understand exactly what you went through. So thanks! I’m the one that’s usually late to the party. : )

    1. Oh wow, thank you so much for your kind words!!😍❤️ I hope you‘ll love this book as much as I did!!

  4. Love your review! Read this last year and loved it – though I definitely agree about the slower pace. I’d read The Odyssey for Uni only a year before so I loved to see the feminist twist on one of the characters!

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