Thursday, December 9, 2021

Madeline Miller - Circe

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.
When love drives Circe to cast a dark spell, wrathful Zeus banishes her to the remote island of Aiaia. There she learns to harness her occult craft, drawing strength from nature. But she will not always be alone; many are destined to pass through Circe's place of exile, entwining their fates with hers. The messenger god, Hermes. The craftsman, Daedalus. A ship bearing a golden fleece. And wily Odysseus, on his epic voyage home.
There is danger for a solitary woman in this world, and Circe's independence draws the wrath of men and gods alike. To protect what she holds dear, Circe must decide whether she belongs with the deities she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Comment: I'm late for the party, considering this was quite a hyped book in 2018, won awards....but the beauty of books is that they can be read at any time! I saw a copy of it at a book fair two years ago and decided to buy it, influenced by the amount of hype it had. Plus, I found out a friend had it on her TBR as well and we agreed on a buddy read.

Circe is an odd one among her family. She isn't as pretty, as captivating, as special as anyone else but she falls prey to emotions, just like the others. However, she also feels she should be accountable and by confessing a certain act, she condemns herself to exile. However, somehow others find her way and how she deals with what comes will shape her life and her destiny... but will she keep her own perceived values in the face of adversity?

In this book, the author retells the story of Circe, a mythological character seen in several classic works, such as the Odyssey. Circe is the daughter of a Titan and a nymph but she has always been pointed out as being too different from the rest of the family. In classical work, she is mostly known to be a witch but in this book, mrs Miller starts since Circe was born until her fate seems to finally end up depending of herself, which means the base is all on the knowledge the known works provide, and the author included what she perceived could have been the reasons and details for Circe's path in life.

I imagined this book would be more an adaptation/retelling of Circe's life than what we have, which is actually a more detailed version of what we already know from the classical sources. Let's say that we follow Circe as she goes through life by focusing on all the already known key moments we are aware of and the author completes that information with what could have happened to bring Circe to that path and situations.

I understand her choice, she isn't making all things up, she uses what is known and shapes the rest from that. On one hand this is a good tactic because there's less room for lack of direction, but on the other is a risk, for people are so used to the classical information, this might have ended up being a little dry. I must confess this was what I felt while reading: the novelty of the story wasn't that special and not even the supposed evolution of Circe from submissive and bullied little girl to powerful and clever witch made me appreciate the book more.

To me, the biggest issue here was the fact Circe is the narrator - should make it easier to connect with her - and she is telling things, as classical works often do as well; classical books tell the reader what is going on, they don't really allow readers to be part of things. I felt this made the book a bit dry, lacking emotions, and every character was the same... not even Circe, supposedly different, was that different, which made it hard for me to commiserate or be glad she was changing herself into someone with self respect and peace of mind. I liked Circe was more than the others and that she wanted to find a purpose and value on herself, but the story just boring at times.

The last chapters were a positive surprise. That's where the author went in a different track, she changes what we know into something that would be more in par with the kind of characters she kept trying to shows Circe actually was. I certainly liked this side of Circe a lot more and the last chapter is open ended enough that readers can expect whatever closure they might feel is more suited to the story. However, I think it was a little too late for me... 

I can appreciate the writing itself, the amount of research and planning that went into this, the beauty of some passages and ideas... but as a story, I wasn't as marveled by it as so many others seemed to have been.
Grade: 6/10

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