Circe by Madeline Miller: A Review

I am excited to share that starting January 2020, I began participating in the GirlXOXO ‘Monthly Motif Reading Challenge’! For each month of the year, there is a different set of criteria a book must fit such as theme, setting, or color.

January’s motif was ‘Winter Wonderland’ and the parameters of the required book was that it should be set in a wonderful place such as a rich culture or fantastical land. That being said, I chose to read Madeline Miller’s Circe, set in ancient, mythical Greece.

Essentially, Circe is a feminist retelling of Homer’s Odyssey, with the main character being the witch, Circe. The novel follows Circe’s life story from birth to the blossoming of her power, both as a woman and a witch. I found that her character was quite relatable in that she was an outsider even among the gods and goddesses of the Greek pantheon. She was not a beautiful and vain as her family and even worse, she loved humans. The striking contrast between herself and her family created many a character building moment for Circe as well as presented issues which she had to overcome. In Miller’s book, we see the unfolding of Circe’s very soul and get an intimate look at one of history’s original femme fatales.

In Homer’s Odyssey, I felt that Circe did not get a fair portrayal. In the main character’s words, it seems she agrees with me: “Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.”

At the time, women were considered as inferior to men in literature as they were in real life. A woman’s life was controlled first by her father and then, by her husband. She had no political power and her most important duty in life was to provide her husband a male heir. Oftentimes, in Greek literature the woman was either a villainess or a victim and very rarely was she the heroine. In the Odyssey, Circe played the villain bested by the heroic Odysseus.

Miller’s telling, however, reads a very different story. Throughout the whole book, never did I think that Circe was a victim or even a villain (though some of the things she did were kind of naughty). There was always a reason for her actions and a plausible justification. She was a woman of her own power rather than a pawn of man and it was a pleasure getting to experience her realizing that power through the chapters. Her transformation is best summed up in her own words, “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.”

If you would like to participate in GirlXOXO’s ‘Monthly Motif Reading Challenge’, follow the link here. You will find all of the rules and upcoming motifs.

And if you’d like to add Circe to your reading list, click this link!

Happy reading! 🙂

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