Circe by Madeline Miller

I enjoyed reading The Song of Achilles and was excited about turning the pages of Circe. I was not disappointed.

The more I read, the more I thought about the nature of storytelling, the enjoyment it takes in reflecting upon narrative tropes, upon stories of the past, about how it turns life and truth into narrative by retelling those old tropes and stories in new guises. In a way, Circe is the Odyssey newly told, or perhaps the battle between gods and their relationship to mortals newly told. The female perspective is the most delicious of changes and the choice of Circe, banished to her island, her voice weak as a mortals, her beauty dim for a goddess, makes the story more interesting. We see old tales from a perspective that is both divine and at the outskirts of that divinity, able to see it from the outside and judge its flaws.

Not only is the tale of Circe engaging, the shape of immortal life feels believable. The way the seasons pass and coastlines shift as a god struggles to gain maturity, is beautiful and intriguing. Though gods face fear, they do not face death. You could say there is nothing for them to mature against. They are filled with their own self-glory.

There is no real need to go over the plot, and to do so, especially towards the end of the tale, would take some of the pleasure from reading the novel. I do feel sad though that I can’t talk about the end. It reminds me of one of my favourite Borges short stories, ‘The Immortal’, which makes its own references to Odysseus.

Needless to say, this telling of the myths of Titans, Olympians, Troy and Greece, is entrancing and full of all the wonders of the weave of personality, metamorphosis and mortality with a feminist slant. We see how this world looks through the eyes of female gods and the heroines of the great tales. The transformative powers of desire are at the heart of them all.

What truly makes us feel life? What shapes and gives significance to life? Circe asks these questions and dares to find unusual answers. I thoroughly recommend it.

I’ll be reviewing The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh next.

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