Book Review

Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

“When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” 

I have no idea where to begin this review. This tale was so hauntingly beautiful that it has not only left me speechless, but also flung me into a deep, bottomless pit of bookhangover that is going to last for months. Ms. Miller is a brilliant storyteller of astonishing caliber, and she has spun here a world that is simultaneously cruel and enchanting, cold and passionate, unbelievably magical and eerily familiar. 

Essentially a Greek lore retelling of Circe, daughter of Helios, the sun, this is a book about finding yourself and the magic within. It is a story of stubborn resilience and fighting your fears in a world adamant on breaking or shunning you, often both. It is a story of becoming, accepting, making your own fate.

“…It was their [fates] favorite bitter joke: those who fight against prophecy only draw it more tightly around their throats…” 

Told in first person with past, present, history and legend entwined together, it is character of Circe who binds the whole narrative together. We see her wrestle with concepts of immortality, try to grasp what it means to be a plain nymph – women whose only claim to power is beauty and grace – in a world brimming with powerful gods. We see her love, hate, grieve, celebrate, break and the stand up anew. We see her understand and then accept what it is to be alive and later, human. That she happens to be the child of a god is a cosmic, poignant irony. 

“…Odysseus, son of Laertes, the great traveler, prince of wiles and tricks and a thousand ways. He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.” 

As Circe moves through her loneliness, solitude, exile and life, the reader gets to experience with her questions of belonging and familial love, of validity of love and how blind and arrogant it can be if not channeled, expressed in the way its meant to be. And ultimately, that’s what makes this a feminist story because Circe is not always right or strong. She falls and questions herself. Makes countless mistakes, cruel, evil ones, trusting too easily or not all. But she also learns, repents and hence, becomes.

Both love and magic are essential parts of this becoming and though she longs for the later more, it is the first that helps, transforms her more. What I love the most was that this transformation was organic and ultimately allows her to accept her powers, put herself first without falling into the pit of narcissistic self-obsession. 

“…All my life had been murk and depths, but I was not a part of that dark water. I was a creature within it.” 

Thank you, Ms. Miller, for this true, literary gem. You’ve found a new fan for life and I can’t wait to read more of your work. Circe’s journey is unlike any other I’ve ever read and I will always cherish it. The ending of the book made me gasp with delight and cry because it was over. I’d recommend this to all who love Greek mythology and wanted to lose themselves in a world unlike another.



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