Circe by Madeline Miller

five dragons

“I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open.”

I’ve taken my time to write this review because I wanted to make sure the feeling of enjoyment didn’t fade. I thought it was just a haze created by the book, but thankfully it was not. I still love this book. That being said I don’t recommend it for people looking strictly for action. If you love the literary style and mythology then this book is definitely for you.

Normally I try to include what I liked and what I didn’t like but be forewarned there is nothing I didn’t like enough for it to be included in my review. As such this review may be annoyingly positive to some but know that it is my honest opinion. I was lucky to find a book that so agreed with my taste.

The writing

 If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you know I’m a sucker for solid writing. I want lyrical, literary, profound writing style. Circe is the epitome of the writing I enjoy. Every word had depth without being a confusing metaphor built on broken stilts. Madeline Miller’s phrasing and voice gave new life to one of our oldest stories. She did not paint in black and white or gold and red, she painted in truth and nuance, with accuracy as she brought light to the shadows and darkness to the sun.

I will absolutely be looking into Achilles by Madeline Miller. I know I will connect to it in a different way, but anyone who can write like that has gained a lifelong reader out of me.

The Story

“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.”

When I started Circe all I knew about its titular character was that she was exiled to an island where she turned men to pigs and she met and trapped Odysseus on her island. I did realize how her story and so many others intertwined. I did not know she met Daedalus, saved the Minotaur, or had a child. Each of these is true to the mythos, and there are so many other stories that are wrapped up in hers. Madeline Miller not only told the stories I had never heard but expounded on the ones I thought I knew by heart.

She tugged at strings I had long forgotten existed and used them to shape a truer tapestry. The gods we all know, abstractly, to be cruel are shown in cruel acts and thoughts. The humans we know to be heroic are shown to be fallible and cruel in their own right. The humans and gods we know to be good are given stories that share that kindness with us. We know Daedalus loved his son, but in Circe we get to see that love shine through his actions and his words and how it shapes his life.

“Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.”

I had heard Circe was a feminist read but wasn’t sure exactly how I would feel about it. Yet in this it was done flawlessly. Circe hates those, men generally as she lives on a far-off island, who would attack her, rape her, hurt her or her child, but she is willing to befriend those who are kind in any way. Yet she is no saint. She has made mistakes, acted badly and weakly at times and refuses to ignore her own shortcomings. We see all of Circe, not just the groundbreaking moments remembered by mythos, but the heartbreaking moments she faces alone. We see her break and we see her heal, mend herself and grow beyond.

“It is a common saying that women are delicate creatures, flowers, eggs, anything that may be crushed in a moment’s carelessness. If I had ever believed it, I no longer did.”

The narrator

Perdita Weeks has the voice of a goddess. Her voice and her reading style, down to speed and pitch, were absolutely perfect for this book. She has narrated six other books with Audible and I will be looking into some of them just to hear that voice again. I have stopped reading some audiobooks because of uncomfortable narrators with grating voices and zero understanding of timing, but this is a book I would listen to again and gladly.

“Only that: we are here. This is what it means to swim in the tide, to walk the earth and feel it touch your feet. This is what it means to be alive.”

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