If you love Greek mythology there’s no way you’ll be missing Madeline Miller’s Circe, which tells the story of the witch from The Odyssey. You may know her best for turning men into pigs, but this wonderful novel is much more than that. It’s her origin story and her side of events, which don’t always tally up with what you might know.
Daughter of the sun god Helios and nymph Perses, young Circe shows compassion to Prometheus when he is punished, yet the competition for attention between her sisters leads her to jealousy. She learns how to use herbs to make potions, taking the forbidden flowers which bloom in the blood of the Titans, to transform people and things. She may be immortal but she still can have tantrums, and the combination of her temper and her abilities results in her being banished from her father’s court.
This is the grief that makes our kind choose to be stones and trees rather than flesh.
I loved how many origin stories this combined, not just how Circe ended up on that island with the power of transfiguration but also how her extended family fit into myth. Scylla is a sea monster responsible for many a sailor’s death but she was also once Circe’s sister. Another sibling went on to marry King Minos and give birth to a beast, half man half bull. You know where that story is going… Actually Madeline writes many of the monsters with a sympathetic edge and the heroes in not such a shining light.
The lost poem Telegony is expanded upon, telling the tragic tale of Odysseus’s two sons Telemachus and Telegonus. A prophecy foretells that Odysseus will be killed by his son and Athena gets involved, trying to kill Telegonus before he can do any harm. Circe tries to hide him from the goddess as best as he can but he wishes to leave and find his father.
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.
I just adored this. Circe is lonely but strong and her story feels like it spans generations, whilst she remains the same. Ah, the curse of immortality! If you loved The Song of Achilles, I’m pretty sure this book is already on your radar, I’m just here to say yes, do buy it, you won’t be disappointed.
Circe is published by Bloomsbury and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 19th April 2018 (I know, this is an early review but I just couldn’t hold it in any longer). Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.
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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.
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