Wow, I really liked this book. I know that’s what a 4 Star rating generally means, but I just want to make it clear. This was good.
I also want to preface this review by saying that this is another book where I’m not sure how to categorize the spoilers. If you’ve read The Iliad or The Odyssey, then you’ll know pretty much everything that happens in this book. Though I guess towards the end we kind of come across Miller’s imagining. Just to be on the safe side, why don’t we assume that the remainder of this review contains SPOILERS. So if you hate them, and you haven’t read this book but you know you’re going to – don’t go any further.
I was one of those weird kids/adults who actually really enjoyed reading The Odyssey in school. I love Greek (and Roman) mythology – well, any kind of mythology really. It’s always such a fascinating insight in to what any given culture finds important as part of their way of life. If Homer’s telling of The Iliad or The Odyssey is your only experience with Greek Mythology and as such you are reluctant to read anything about it ever again – this is the book for you! Miller weaves the mythology of the Greeks as expertly as Penelope wove her shroud while Odysseus was in Troy (and then on his way back home for 10 years).
Miller decided to give Circe – daughter of Helios, lover to Odysseus and mother to his second son, Telegonus, not to be confused with his first son, Telemachus – a story of her own. And what a story it was. Circe, daughter of a Titan, is a goddess with no ambition beyond being loved. As a girl, she spends her days with her brother avoiding their two older siblings (because they’re mean) and just trying to catch her father’s eye so she can gain his attention for a bit. Unfortunately, when she finally does catch his eye, it results in her exile to the lonely island of Aiaia (Miller’s spelling. More commonly found as Aeaea). And while Circe definitely has her own trials and tribulations, this story is really the “coming of age” story of a Goddess who rejects everything about her own nature, and really has a human conscience. Something unheard of in the world of Homer and Ovid and Greek Mythology in general.
It’s also poignant to me, because I really loved The Odyssey. (I literally named my Kayak after Odysseus’ mother) The thing with The Odyssey though is that it was really an ode to Odysseus. He was the hero of that story, He was brave, he was strong, he was smart, he was dedicated to his cause, and all he ever wanted to do was go home but he couldn’t because those pesky Greek Gods just loved tormenting him. We tend to forget that he blinded Polyphemus, that his men were probably not that great at socializing when they came upon lone females, and that he was a philanderer (though to be absolutely fair – everyone in Greek stories is a cheater).
What Miller does in Circe is take a brief look at the potential by-product of all of the great Odysseus’ exploring and conquering. What would that really have looked like? (Hint: PTSD is the short answer) How would that have affected the other people in the story – outside of Odysseus and his men? (Another hint: one look at Polyphemus and I think you have your answer) I think my favorite thing about this book, is that we got to see an imagining of what happened to Penelope after Odysseus returned home. And in Miller’s version it’s definitely not the way that Ovid and Homer would have portrayed it.
I ended this book with an overwhelming feeling of “Girl Power!™” I found in Miller’s writing, the version of Greek mythology that I wish I could have read when I was in high school. I totally would have fallen in love with it sooner. Miller’s version is way more relatable and palatable to the average reader and to today’s reader. And now I absolutely want to read The Song of Achilles.