Circe - a story filled with Olympians and Titans and Gods and Mortals
Circe by Madeline Miller
Published 2018, 398 pages
”It was true what Hermes said. Every moment mortals died, by shipwreck and sword, by wild beasts and wild men, by illness, neglect, and age. It was their fate, as Prometheus had told me, the story that they all shared. No matter how vivid they were in life, no matter how brilliant, no matter the wonders they made, they came to dust and smoke. Meanwhile every petty and useless god would go on sucking down the bright air until the stars went dark.”
This is a masterful retelling of the story of Circe, one of the minor Greek goddesses, the daughter of the sun god Helios. I have to admit that I entered into the book not even remembering the story of Circe - there are just SO many Greek gods with their various powers and stories, that I can't keep them straight. My only slight quibble with this book is that the gods got muddled in my brain a few times. That's not the author's fault, it's mine.
Briefly, Circe is an immortal Goddess who is not in favor with her father, Helios, bullied by her siblings and relations, basically the uninteresting "runt of the litter". Her odd voice and seemingly limited powers left her an outsider, even in her own family. She does something to anger her father and he puts her in perpetual exile on a remote island. Through the centuries that she is removed from the happenings of the world, she becomes a great witch by teaching herself the skills of using the herbs and plants on her island and the spells she develops.
Circe occasionally interacts with mortals that randomly happen to find her island - sometimes for the good and mostly for the bad. Eventually she has a son with a mortal and raises him alone on the island until he is 16. Things transpire to take him off the island and leads her to reevaluate her life.
"I looked into his good face. Not good because it was handsome, but because it was itself, like fine metal, tempered and beaten for strength."
THEMES ARE DEVELOPED
There are plenty of themes explored throughout the telling of the story: how to respond to being the outsider in a family; discovering your true self; looking for love "in all the wrong places"; single parenting; feminism displayed appropriate to the era (a woman who was NOT going to be told what she could or could not do); and, of course, vengeance and forgiveness. All themes were handled subtly and deftly.
Miller's beautiful writing in Circe brings this very complex heroine to life on the page. I cheered for her all the way through her centuries. Strong and steadfast, and then trembling with fear but not giving in to it, reactionary then regretful, content in her aloneness but reveling in company when it arrived, and even falling in love - she experiences it all.
"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."
This book has it all - stories of the gods, adventure, betrayal and redemption, magic, monsters and more. There is depth enough for most readers. Even if you aren't a Greek gods nerd or didn't even know you were interested in Greek gods (me), this book will change your mind. Read it.
Circe is the first Buddy Read for 2021 with my sister, Donna. Last year we read Song of Achilles and enjoyed it, but we agreed, we liked this one MUCH more! During our book discussion, we agreed that this is a fascinating story and one we both rate very highly.