Books on GIF #82 — 'Circe' by Madeline Miller


Hope you're all enjoying the long weekend. Welcome to the latest edition of Books on GIF, the animated alternative to boring book reviews. This Sunday's book is 'Circe' by Madeline Miller. 
I don't normally buy hardcovers because they are bulky and expensive, but I picked this one up because I was interested in its new take on Greek mythology, and because I was able to get it for $3 in a crazy sale on Amazon upon its recent release. The sale was probably designed to turn the book into an instant bestseller, and in retrospect I'm a bit chagrined to have fallen for some kind of book-launch marketing ploy. But a $3 book is a $3 book, guys, and whenever I can, I'm like: 
The book tells the story of Circe, a character you may remember from reading 'The Odyssey' in high school or watching the 1997 TV miniseries based on Homer's epic that featured Bernadette Peters as Circe. Just to be clear, we're talking about this Circe: 
Not this Cersei: 
The story begins with Circe's early life as a minor goddess dwelling among other deities in the halls of Helios, her father the sun god. She discovers she has magical powers after she uses special plants to turn a mortal man into a god and a beautiful nymph named Scylla into a six-headed monster. Circe runs afoul of the gods, and is sent into exile on a deserted island called Aiaia. Once she settles in, her powers of sorcery grow, and so do her number of visitors. A who's who from Greek mythology drop by. There's Hermes, the messenger god who becomes her lover. There's Daedalus, who takes her on a brief furlough from her imprisonment to help her sister give birth to the Minotaur. There's Medea, fresh from cutting up her brother and scattering his body parts. There's Jason, who arrives with Medea and already looks like he's going to dump her. There's Apollo, I forget what he wanted. There's a bunch of rapists and thieves, whom Circe transforms into pigs. (I got a kick out of that.) There's some wayward nymphs sent to serve Circe as a form of punishment. And then there's:
The book really gets going once he makes his pitstop on Aiaia on his way home to Ithaca. While his men repair their ship, Odysseus and Circe enjoy a yearlong affair, and right before he leaves, she stops taking her magical birth control and gets pregnant unbeknownst to him. The rest of the book involves screaming children, angry gods, a talking stingray, a deadly spear and awkward family reunions. I really liked Circe as a character. Even though she's divine, she felt very human. (The Greek gods overall are much more fun and relatable than the overly serious monotheisms that replaced them.) Far from being all-knowing and all-powerful, Circe makes mistakes and regrets some of her actions, particularly turning Scylla into a fanged freak. We see her grow and try to become a better person. I also liked how Miller used witchcraft as a vehicle for female empowerment that was less this: 
And more this: 

But there were also some drawbacks. The book didn't have a central purpose for me to care about or to give it direction. At times it felt like a bunch of events strung together, like first this happened then that happened. That's tedious. Maybe the book did this to evoke Circe's solitude, but I'm not so sure. I also felt it tried to force in too many myths. The tangent about the Minotaur, for example, didn't really go anywhere, like: 
Even so, this is a fun book. A solid summer read, for sure. Just wait for it to come out in paperback. 

My rating: 

'Circe' by Madeline Miller was published by Little Brown and Company in 2018. 385 pages. 

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In case you missed it: Books on GIF #81 reviewed 'How Should a Person Be?' by Sheila Heti

What's next: In two weeks you'll get a review of 'Moses, Man of the Mountain' by Zora Neale Hurston. Also in the queue are 'Homesick For Another World' by Ottessa Moshfegh, 'The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion' by Margaret Killjoy and 'Basic Black with Pearls' by Helen Weinzweig.

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Thanks for reading, and thanks especially to Donna for editing this review!

Until next time,