Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

A self-made witch goddess navigates through the hazy cruelty and beauty of the ancient Greek pantheon

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

I have never been really into Greek mythology and preferred instead Celtic, Egyptian, Polynesian, Japanese myths. I know that’s weird, given my real name, however I always found the twisting, complex tales of Greek deities to be too convoluted and I lacked the patience. This is now behind me after reading Circe.

This is a sweeping saga of a self-made female goddess who begins with nothing and through her learning, hard graft and hard work achieves power and greatness.

She is a daughter of Helios the sun god and the most powerful of the titans. Unlike other goddesses including her mother she is not known for her looks or charming ways. Instead she is born with an innate gift for witchcraft.

I can’t give away much more of the story without spoiling it for you, so you will need to read this one yourself to find out what happens.

This is a glorious journey into the heart of ancient Greek myths but with a contemporary twist. Circe is a powerful witch, an artisan and a scupltor of her own destiny which she hones and manages carefully, allowing mortals and gods into her private realm with plenty of caution.

The book features a cast of well-known characters from the Greek myths that are seen in a new light through the storytelling of Madeline Miller. This includes the Minotaur doomed to its underground maze, Daedalus the craftsman and his doomed son Icarus who flew too close to the sun, and more.

This is a profoundly modern book that many would consider to be a feminist work because there are themes that speak into the current focus on sexual assault and ‘me too’ movement.

Circe through battle-weary experience has a tangible distrust of big groups of men. However, instead of becoming a victim of bad male behaviour, Circe firmly maintains a locus of intelligence and power in her own hands.

We also witness a subversion of the female friendship narrative trope, which for me, reads as being feminist too. It’s a common narrative trope in fiction that women hate each other or at least compete against each other for the prize. Whatever that happens to be: money, love, adulation, fame, whatever. In my experience in the real world this doesn’t bear out, as I personally find competitiveness amongst women really petty and sad and most women simply are not like this in real life (thankfully).

However, this ridiculous idea is pervasive in a lot of fiction. The tacit idea is that women – being women – will tend towards hating one another and strive to eliminate each other instead of working together in life. Circe turns this convention on its head, and for me this was an obvious subversion and quite a feminist one, that women are not enemies but rather soul sisters and protectors of each other against the injustices of life. More of this in fiction please.

There are more powerful lessons too, both universal lessons for all people but particularly for women.

  1. You don’t need anyone else to give you fulfillment, and you don’t need a man. You can give this contentment to yourself.
  2. You can live your life freely in the way that you choose and according to your own rules, you just need to give yourself permission.
  3. Even if the world turns on you and you have nobody and nowhere to go, you can still carve out a life for yourself based on gaining knowledge. And knowledge is power.

I just loved this book, it was like being transported to the smoky, hazy netherworld of the ancient Mediterranean. It was difficult to come back to the real world afterwards.

Published by Content Catnip

Content Catnip is a quirky internet wunderkammer written by an Intergalactic Space Māori named Content Catnip. Join me as I meander through the quirky and curious aspects of history, indigenous spirituality, the natural world, animals, art, storytelling, books, philosophy, travel, Māori culture and loads more.

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