Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.
Along with a few Sunday school stories and fairy tales, Greek myths were some of the first stories that I was exposed to. Before I knew anything at all about hobbits or Jesus lions, I could recite the names of all the Olympians and a few of the Titans. Jason and Theseus and Hercules and Perseus were way more familiar to little-Me than Robin Hood or Wyatt Earp or Frodo. As I got older and read more of the myths, plays, and poems of ancient Greece, unedited, I became a bit uncomfortable with the casual sexism and idiotic violence of it all. Other, later works, like the Aeneid, proved deeper, prettier, and more intellectually stimulating than the Bronze Age Greek stuff. Nevertheless, I have always had a special place in my heart for the old tales.
Circe, by Madeline Miller, therefore, proved to be the perfect book to get me out of my fiction-funk. It tells the “life” story of Circe, the premier witch of ancient Greek myth, from Circe’s point of view.
I have found a solid chunk of the “From the Antagonist’s Point of View” type of stories to be downright terrible. They typically change the stories in order to shoehorn in a “the villain was really the hero – or at least not that bad – the whole time!” message. Usually they are poorly written, poorly plotted, claptrap designed to cash in on the popularity of the original stories.
Circe ain’t like that. The author includes, unchanged, the major events of the myths involving Circe. The only changes are that instead of the spotlight being on the goals and objectives of the male heroes, as song by male poets, it remains on Circe, with all of her fears, hopes, insecurities, inconsistencies, regrets, and motivations laid bare. She is a real “person” (as much a person as a minor, immortal god can be) with real feelings.
The author vividly tells Circe’s story with straightforward, easy-to-read prose, such that the book is a fast read. I do not mean to imply, however, that the writing is simplistic. It’s very pretty, and the language exudes a certain poetic complexity that would entertain readers for multiple re-reads. I think it would be a great book for YA readers looking to try out more “literary” offerings. Fantasy aficionados should also really enjoy this book, too, with its epic sweep. It’s got gods, monsters, heroes, magic, and adventure.
I enjoyed this book so much, I bought and read all of the other books written by this author. I can’t really think of higher praise than that.
My rating: 5 stars