CIRCE (#1 New York Times bestseller)

by Madeline Miller

Hardcover, 2018

Call number




Little, Brown and Company (2018), Edition: 1st Edition, 400 pages


In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child -- not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power -- the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves. Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus. But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.… (more)

Media reviews

“Circe” will surely delight readers new to the witch’s stories as it will many who remember her role in the Greek myths of their childhood: Like a good children’s book, it engrosses and races along at a clip, eliciting excitement and emotion along the way.
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Miller has taken the familiar materials of character, and wrought some satisfying turns of her own.
[W]hat elevates Circe is Miller’s luminous prose, which is both enormously readable and evocative, and the way in which she depicts the gulf between gods and mortals.
Written in prose that ripples with a gleaming hyperbole befitting the epic nature of the source material, there is nothing inaccessible or antiquated about either Circe or her adventures.
The character of Circe only occupies a few dozen lines of [the Odyssey], but Miller extracts worlds of meaning from Homer's short phrases.
Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.”
We know how everything here turns out — we’ve known it for thousands of years — and yet in Miller’s lush reimagining, the story feels harrowing and unexpected. The feminist light she shines on these events never distorts their original shape; it only illuminates details we hadn’t noticed before.
[Miller] paints an uncompromising portrait of a superheroine who learns to wield divine power while coming to understand what it means to be mortal.

User reviews

LibraryThing member JeffV
Madeline Miller seems to have carved out a niche for herself developing characters of Greek mythology or legend. A few years ago, I read her story about Achilles; this time it's the sorceress god Circe.

In mythology, Circe was somewhat of a bad-ass, able to morph people and gods into creatures representing their true nature. In The Odyssey, Odesseus' crew was turned into pigs. In this book, the tragic hero was father to her son, and the pigs were simply island companions.

Miller tries to make Circe more of a sympathetic figure than the myths would otherwise have you believe. The purpose of myths is to give stories that educate and hopefully influence people to behave to a societal norm. This story seems to nerf the impact of who Circe was and makes her less terrifying than the myth-makers had in mind. Circe wasn't the only one getting the softball treatment -- she is an attendant when her sister gives birth to the minotaur, and despite losing a few fingers to the beast while trying to accomplish a c-section, she nevertheless laments at the poor, misunderstood creature's fate.

Unlike Song of Achilles, there is no real story with any sort of plot. Circe is, she does stuff, people and gods suffer, but it's all a stream of consciousness coming from her. In the end, I wished there was something to actually be an end.
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LibraryThing member lisapeet
Outstanding. Miller has worked her way inside the Greek myths and legends to flesh out their gods, Titans, mortals, and monsters with not only backstories but motivations, conflicts, inconsistencies, entanglements, nuances, and scars. That's surely the point for anyone who studies classics, but she's done the writer's work as well to give it all a solid armature of plot and narrative arc that's not always there when you get them piecemeal, as most of us have done. And the result is thrilling, honestly. Miller is a strong writer, and—just as important when working with this kind of deep historical material—she has an excellent ear, so not a word rings false. From the book's opening pages the witch Circe is a character to wonder and care about—a believable and fascinating anti/heroine. I loved every word.

There are also some interesting meditations here on mortality and fate, both of which are often on my mind these days. The last page and a half was as moving as anything I've read in a long time.

Also in awe of the book's insane crossover power. Circe is for lovers of literary fiction and historical fiction, book clubs, scholars, your aunt, your teenager, your best friend. This was a great book to wind up a good reading year.

(There are some neat images of Circe on Miller's blog.)
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LibraryThing member jmchshannon
If anyone needs to look back to find out just how long men have feared strong women, one need look no farther than ancient Greece and the gods and goddesses worshipped. For every Athena, who struck fear into men and women and gods and goddesses alike, there are hundreds of minor goddesses described as lesser and therefore are considered minor to any narrative. Then there is Circe. As any good student of history and sociology knows, humans and gods fear different among all other attributes. Unfortunately, Circe is the embodiment of that fear, and her treatment at the hands of man and gods alike confirms how long men have tried to control and oppress women into minor roles.

As a mythology fan, there was no way I was going to be disappointed in Ms. Miller’s retelling of Circe’s famous story. However, in spite of the fact that I knew I was going to enjoy the story, I found myself utterly entranced at the world Ms. Miller created. She goes beyond the gods versus man situation. In fact, you quickly forget that Circe is a goddess given how realistic she is. Yes, she may never die and never face any sort of injury, yet her struggles are our struggles. She still faces the most brutal of crimes against women and must deal with the same shame and rage that millions of women endure every day after such attacks. She must prove herself in a world where women are minor, good for breeding and running a household. She faces abuse of every magnitude, isolation, doubt, and worst of all, indifference. She is so feared that her own father and uncle banish her to a deserted island for eternity. Her story is the blueprint for every strong woman who comes after her, just as the men who persecute her are for any man who has found a way to subjugate a woman in some fashion.

The success of Circe hinges on Ms. Miller’s ability to make commonplace beings and events that were not, something at which she succeeds. She makes the mythical normal, the magic commonplace, and the extraordinary mundane. This allows us to focus less on Circe’s eternal lifespan and more on her actions. I mentioned earlier that it is easy to forget she is a goddess, and this is a good thing for it allows you to become her, to experience her pain and humiliation, and celebrate her triumphs. In addition, Ms. Miller puts as much effort in establishing the backdrop as she does her characters so that you get an island that you can easily visualize, feel its breezes, smell the various scents, and hear the sounds the permeate the silence. The ocean becomes something to be feared and simultaneously pitied. Her mountains are soothing friends. Circe’s story is nothing without the nature aspect of it, which she uses to create her magic. Hence, the fact that nature takes on a life of its own and becomes something more than a backdrop against which the rest of the story unfolds fleshes out her story and makes it a three-dimensional one.

I knew I would enjoy it, but I tore through Circe faster than I expected. I did this not just because Circe is such a fascinating character nor solely because Ms. Miller does such a good job of bringing her to life. It is the amalgamation of everything which caused me to voraciously read this particular novel. It is the combination of Circe and her island and the writing and the gods and goddesses and heroes and monsters. It is the addition of magic and pain and power and sacrifice. It is inclusion of loss and love and fear and doubt and the human experience. That is what makes Circe such an impressive story.
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LibraryThing member Marse
Lovely retelling of Circe's story. We all know her from "The Odyssey" as the witch who turned Odyssey's men into pigs, and kept him on her island as her lover for a year. That was the extent of what I knew about Circe. In this novel, Circe herself tells of growing up a daughter of Helios in a household filled with gods, nymphs, and other immortals whose squabbles, jealousies, and self-centeredness is repugnant to her. She is disdained by the others, including her own siblings and mother, but learns to use herbs, potions and magic words to transform beings into their true forms. This becomes her curse and her blessing.

I especially liked the ending to her story. It was satisfying on many levels and makes you say, "Ah, of course!"
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LibraryThing member mamzel
Having loved Greek and Roman mythology (especially the former) from my early years (thanks to an obsessed teacher) and because I loved her first book, The Song of Achilles, I couldn't wait to get my hot little hands on this book. I was not disappointed. Reading it actually inspired me to read the Odyssey, something I have not read since the junior version in fourth grade.

Circe was a witch, exiled to the island by her father, Helios. She found she had a talent for using plants to create potions which combined with spells can transform objects and living things. Luckily she was on an island with a verdant environment with a great variety of plants, and time. She surrounded herself with tame lions and wolves and nymphs who were also escaping the hazards of living among the gods. Occasionally a ship would pull up on her shores and the sailors would be treated according to their behavior.

Miller expands greatly on Circe's story from her childhood to her life after Odysseus. She gives us a glimpse into the possible life of gods and demigods relative to the lives of us mere mortals. It seems they are just like us except that retribution and reward are much more epic when meted out.

The cover, btw, is in a reflective copper - absolutely gorgeous!
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LibraryThing member rayski
Miller's expanded story of Circe the daughter of Helios. Circe is sentenced by her father and Zeus to eternity on an island that is more like Eden than Hell. Here Circe hones her witchcraft and learns to tame the very gods that sentenced her to her island. I never liked Greek Mythology but took a chance on this book because of it rave reviews. Miller breaths new life into mythology, telling it in a language that is easy to read and draws you in. She has totally turned my head on Greek Mythology and now I can't wait to read her first book.… (more)
LibraryThing member MinDea
Absolutely stellar. I loved this book so much. I am a huge mythology fan so I knew this would be up a good pick for me but I didn't know how much I was going to LOVE it! This was beautifully written. I did find it slow at times, but I think it was intentional. I think the reader was meant to feel how Circe felt. I loved all the mythological characters in this book and how she wove the real myths into her retelling of Circe. So good.

Read. This. Book.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
I loved Circe by Madeline Miller far too much to write a reasoned review of it's merits and flaws. I'm not drawn to mythology in general and would not have read this book if I hadn't already read The Song of Achilles and had Circe not been part of The Morning News Rooster Summer Reading Challenge, but I fell for it at some moment during the opening pages and the spell held for the entire book.

Miller takes the mythological character of Circe, a witch who turns part of Odysseus's crew into wild animals and who has a relationship with him, as well as other appearances she makes in Greek mythology and creates a wonderfully complex character, who struggles to find a place she belongs in, while tying her into many traditional events. There's a lot that can be said about what Miller is doing and how she's subverting some traditions, while keeping utterly to the spirit of mythology, but basically I read the entire book in a state of uncritical joy.
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
"That is one thing gods and mortals share. When we are young, we think ourselves the first to have each feeling in the world."

"Life is not so simple as a loom. What you weave, you cannot unravel with a tug."

"He does not mean that it does not hurt. He does not mean that we are not frightened. Only that: we are here. This is what it means to swim in the tide, to walk the earth and feel it touch your feet. This is what it means to be alive."

Circe is the brilliant retelling of the Greek myth of Circe, daughter of the sun god Helios and the nymph Perse. Circe is a witch, a demigod who has been, in this telling, alienated and marginalized all her life -- set aside by parents, ridiculed by siblings, scoffed at by other gods, eventually exiled to an island to live out her days in isolation and despair. Not so easily is this heroin cast aside.

The language in this literary recreation is spare and lovely. Circe herself is a strong, admirable woman who gradually learns to stand up for herself and make choices based on self-interest, yes, but also on the basis of a clear moral compass. As her story unfolds, so does that of Greek mythology: the story of Odysseus who takes Circe as a lover and by whom she bears a son, the stories of the Minotaur and Scylla, Prometheus, Daedalus and Icarus, Achilles and Hector, and more. Had Greek mythology been told with this sense of story and pacing when I was in high school, I would have loved it. This is literature at its best: moving, engaging, humorous, and deeply human (yes, even when we are speaking of gods). The universality of the Greek stories emerges from every tale and Circe herself becomes a heroin to be revered and remembered. Heartily recommended.
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LibraryThing member DanielSTJ
This was a solid novel, but it lags and meanders in several parts- which serve as a detriment to the whole rather than augmenting it. However, there are some great scenes in here (especially involving Odysseus) and there is much to be learnt, appreciated, and respected in this book. A solid effort and a good book nonetheless.

3.5 stars!… (more)
LibraryThing member Herenya
I impulsively borrowed this, and then wasn’t sure if it was going to be something I would like. Was this going to be an exercise in watching everything go wrong?

I kept reading because I’d become invested in Circe and the things she cared about, and because the prose is so compelling. This is sharply written and unflinching about gods and mortals, but it is not as bitter as I expected. It’s a lot more hopeful -- it’s a story about freedom and transformation and life in a way I found surprising and deeply satisfying.

(It’s also a fascinating and complex portrayal of Odysseus as a man who is charismatic, heroic, wise and also deeply flawed. What is most fascinating is how the focus is not really on him -- he is not the protagonist or the hero of this tale -- but on the impact he has on others, and then, on the contrast between him and others.)

This is how mortals found fame, I thought. Through practice and diligence, tending their skills like gardens until they glowed beneath the sun. But gods are born of ichor and nectar, their excellences already bursting from their fingertips. So they find their fame by proving what they can mar: destroying cities, starting wars, breeding plagues and monsters. All that smoke and savour rising so delicately from our altars. It leaves only ash behind.
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LibraryThing member ecataldi
Definitely in my top three for 2018. This book was a slam dunk! As a teenager I went through an obsession with Greek and Roman mythology, watched Troy CONSTANTLY, and read the Odyssey multiple times. But as I aged, I guess my love and passion for mythology faded. Circe brought all that back and then some with beautiful writing that weaves together forgotten mythologies and gods and prophecies. Circe tells the story of an often overlooked goddess and spins it into one of the most compelling, feminist epics out there. To be quite frank, I had forgotten Cicre, daughter of Helios. For most, Circe's most memorable tale is how she turned Odysseus' men into pigs; she was famed for her witchcraft. Ironically, that tale is just a small footnote in her immortal life, not even one of the most astonishing things she did. This book pieces together her entire mythology and turns it into one of the most enjoyable adventure stories I've read in forever. A must read!!… (more)
LibraryThing member froxgirl
Here's a worthy successor to Miller's previous historical novel about Achilles and Patroclus. Circe is a minor goddess and daughter of Helios the Sun God. After encounters with Prometheus and Daedalus, she is exiled to the island of Aiaia, where she works hard to learn witchcraft, but Circe is hardly left alone. Her niece Medea comes by with her BF Jason and the golden fleece they've stolen from Circe's brother. She is summoned to Crete, where she helps her sister give birth to the Minotaur. When Odysseus, trying to return to Ithaca after the Trojan War victory, lands on her island in his remaining surviving ship, Circe turns his crew into pigs. Odysseus pleads their case and she un-enchants them and takes up with the wily hero, and their year together on Aiaia proves them to be well-matched in intelligence and guile.

If you are a fan of Greek myths, this retelling of not only Homer's epic poem but also the lesser-known odes by Virgil and Ovid, will provide indelible portraits of these familiar immortals and humans: Athena, Hermes, Apollo, Scylla, Penelope, and Telemachus. Despite being scorned, diminished, underestimated, thwarted, and cheated, Circe seizes power with both introspection and great strength.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
Most reviews of Madeline Miller's second novel, an extended retelling of the myth of Circe, label it as a feminist perspective, and while that is true, this is also a compelling story full of adventure magic, and complex, well-drawn characters. Miller begins by going back in time from the familiar episode in which Oysseus's men are turned into swine, back to Circe's childhood in the palace of her father, the Titan sun god Helios.Considered not pretty enough, not smart enough, too willful, too outspoken, and not even in possession of a melodious voice, the young Circe is constantly told that no one wants to hear her speak and that she is "the worst of Helios's children." No wonder she develops a weakness for mortals and underdogs. Her first significant act of disobedience remains a lifelong secret: that she brought a cup of water to her uncle Prometheus, hanging in chains after being whipped for giving the gift of fire to mortals. With her brother (her only friendly companion), Circe begins to study spells and magic, earning a reputation as a witch. She falls in love with a struggling fisherman, Glaucos, and uses her knowledge to transform him into a god, but when he spurns her, she turns her wrath upon his beloved and is brutally punished by Helios. Later, when war breaks out between to Titans and Zeus, Helios agrees to send Circe into exile as one of the terms of a peace treaty. Alone on the island of Aiaia, she becomes the goddess we know from The Odyssey. Her fate and that of her son Telegonus become intertwined with that of Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachus.

Miller's genius is in giving us insight into Circe's psyche. Once on the island, none of her actions are taken for pure revenge: there are always mitigating circumstances, including self defense and the protection of loved ones. Certainly the themes of women's lack of power, the silencing of their voices, and their devaluation are at the forefront. Initially antagonists, Circe and Penelope eventually form a bond that also demonstrates the power women can achieve when they join forces. But lest you are put off by the feminist slant, never fear: there are plenty of gods, monsters, and mayhem straight out of mythology, including Daedalus and Icarus, Scylla and Charybdis, Hermes, Apollo, Artemis, Athena, the Minotaur, and more.

Overall, this is an enchanted and enchanting novel, as beautifully written and vividly imagined as Miller's first , The Song of Apollo. I can hardly wait for her next venture into Greek mythology.
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
This novel based on endlessly engaging Greek mythology, is narrated by Circe, the witch goddess, from her island exile where she was banished for helping Prometheus. Through her eyes we meet familiar characters---Helios, Daedalus, Hermes, Athena, Odysseus, Penelope, the Minotaur, Theseus, Scylla, and some lesser-known deities, demigods and demons. Spurned by her mother, mocked by her siblings, used as a bargaining chip by her father, Circe knows she must learn to survive by her own wits, by the powers she barely her will. As time passes, she becomes highly skilled at concocting potions and casting spells, but is not always cognizant of the ultimate consequences of her acts. Despite her isolation, Circe is not always alone. She cannot leave Aiaia, but ships can and do touch her shores. Her hospitality is enjoyed by all---unless they attempt to take advantage of her, in which case they may find themselves....changed. The gods, of course, can come and go at will, often with demands. From her early days as the least favored child of the god of the Sun, through love affairs and battles with Olympians, Titans and mere mortals, to her ultimate choice to become her truest self, Circe immerses us in a world of powerful magic, natural wonders, monstrous creations and epic emotions. Miller's language is glorious, and she's pretty good at casting a spell herself. This book is a real gift.… (more)
LibraryThing member bookworm12
Circe is a witch on a remote island when Odysseus meets her on his journey home in Homer's Odyssey. In Miller’s reimagining she’s a complicated woman with heartaches and hopes of her own. She’s no longer a footnote in someone else’s story.

We meet Circe as a child in the halls of her Titan father. She never fits into his world of petty jealousy and swift anger. It's not until she's exiled to an island that she begins to figure out who she is. I loved the descriptions of the world where she lives. Whether she's digging in her garden or riding in her father's chariot above the earth, the descriptions bring each scene to life so vividly.

It’s a story of loneliness and longing. The beautiful language draws you in immediately. If you know any Greek mythology the characters will be familiar, but Miller gives them new depth. Just as she did in The Song of Achilles, she brings that ancient world alive and I couldn’t put it down.

BOTTOM LINE: Circe is such a wonderfully complex character. She is full of flaws and selfishness along side guilt and empathy. In this book there are no clear villains and heroes, just characters full of life and contradictions. I can’t wait to return to her world again one day.

“It is not fair,” I said. “It cannot be.”
“Those are two different things,” my grandmother said.

“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.”

“Within him was an ocean’s worth of grief, which could only be stoppered a moment, never emptied.”

“It is youth’s gift not to feel its debts.”

“Those who fight against prophecy only draw it more tightly around their throats.”
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LibraryThing member mooingzelda
I loved Circe. I don't know much about the ancient Greeks and their gods, so I really enjoyed finding out more about them in the context of a compelling personal story. The writing is descriptive without going over the top and I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of places and scenery. Circe herself is an intriguing character from the start, and her character development is fascinating to follow.

Probably the only thing that lets the novel down ever so slightly is the pacing. I felt that it slowed a bit in the middle and towards the end, but the writing is so good I didn't mind too much.
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LibraryThing member jmoncton
Most of what we know about Circe is as a minor character in Homer's Odyssey. She's the nymph who turns men into pigs. But Madeline Miller takes a small footnote and weaves a fabulous story filled egotistical Greek Gods with all their flaws. What I really loved is how Miller creates a complex character in Circe and makes her a heroine that you love. Perfect role model for any woman.… (more)
LibraryThing member quondame
A gritty take on Greek Mythology, this book follows Circe from her earliest existence growing up in the Titan court of her father Helios under the uneasy shadow of the Olympians. Although there are some interesting points made in the early portion of the novel in Helios' court, the similarity to lots of other outsider in an abusive family stories was a bit of a drag, but once Circe is exiled to Aiaia the pacing and tone make for much more pleasant reading. The view of the Greek gods and associates is dead on vicious. Only the potential at the end spoils the true grit cynicism.… (more)
LibraryThing member lauralkeet
I am no expert in Greek mythology, but Madeline Miller is, and she can sure spin a tale. In Circe, she takes a lesser-known figure -- a witch, not a god -- and shows readers the formidable power of strong women. Circe is the daughter of the god Helios, the sun that sees all as it travels across the sky each day. After Helios exiles her to the island of Aiaia for all eternity, she must rely on spells and potions to ensure her safety. Having previously shown a talent for transforming her enemies into monsters (see also: Scylla), Circe doesn’t hesitate to turn seamen into pigs when they attempt to take advantage of her hospitality.

After Odysseus and his men land on Aiaia, he remains with Circe for several years despite the fate of his crew. I enjoyed this take on part of Odysseus’ famous journey and events that follow from it. I don’t want to say too much about the plot, but I really came to love both Circe and Odysseus’ wife, Penelope. Their growth, both individually and together, is another demonstration of the power of strong women. While this novel didn’t capture my emotions like Miller’s prize-winning debut, Song of Achilles, it’s still a great story, well told.
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LibraryThing member karenvg3
I can’t say how much I love Miller’s works. After Song of Achilles I didn’t think her next one would be as good but this one was just as good. I loved the story of Circe and all her trials. I so hope Miller is working on another. These two made me pull out my copies of the Iliad and the Odyssey and am going to re-read them. 5 big 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 for this one.… (more)
LibraryThing member RiversideReader
What a remarkable book! Written so well - it draws the reader in to Circe's world and we learn to know her so well. Straight forward writing, no literary tricks used by lesser authors. Madeline Miller is a genius. Best book I have read this year.
LibraryThing member N.W.Moors
Circe was a nymph and a witch, daughter of the Titan Helios, the sun god. She and her family were involved in many of the stories in Greek mythology including the Odessey, Jason and the Argonauts, the Minotaur, etc.
Ms. Miller has woven these tales and more into a compelling story about a woman who spends her eternal life pondering the differences between divinity and humanness. Despised by her own kind as a witch, Circe is exiled to an island where she spends her days brewing potions and taming animals. Her visitors are famous if you're familiar with Greek mythology, and their stories are retold here with fresh and interesting details.
The writing is lovely, filled with descriptive prose that evokes the Mediterranean. You can see the author knows her subject and her setting as she writes of the smells of fresh herbs or the taste of a meal served at Circe's table.
This is a great book whether you like mythology or not. It probably helps to be familiar with the Greek tales, but more importantly, Circe is about mortality and what it means to be human.
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LibraryThing member Linnet71
Magical, wonderful book. Very well read on audio by Perdita Weeks.
LibraryThing member PeskyLibrary
On the heels of her best-seller, The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller brings us Circe, and I just have to say, I don’t get it. It was like reading a romance novel/Percy Jackson mashup, and maybe that’s a good thing for some people, but not so much for me. Miller tells the myth of Circe, Titan daughter of Helios, with a lot of imagined filler and what ifs happening. As a half-god with no powers, Circe plods through life until she finds her inner witch and becomes a powerful one. I like that she embodies a feminist attitude for much of her story--self sufficient and happily living alone on an island changing aggressive male castaways into swine. Isn’t that every woman’s dream? Ultimately, men change (ruin?) everything for Circe, and then Miller goes and envisions a somewhat storybook ending for her. The sections of the book where Circe connects with known characters--Daedalus, Medea, Odysseus--were the most interesting, but for me the whole thing was mostly meh. PK… (more)


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