Writer: Madeline Miller
Publishing House: Bloomsbury Publishing UK
Date of Publication: April 19th 2018
Rating: 5 stars
‘’Odysseus, son of Laertes, the great traveller, 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.’’
Greek Mythology has an infinite number of fascinating women. Goddesses and lesser deities, mortal queens, princesses and priestesses. In my opinion, few are as enchanting and enigmatic as Circe, the most famous witch in the world of gods and mortals.
Circe is a burden to her father, Helios. Too timid for his liking, too honest and too powerful. The Titans do not play that way. Following an act of revenge against one last humiliation, Circe is banished to the island of Aiaia (obviously, I am using the Ancient Greek name), a land somewhere in the Western coast of Italy (presumably…) In the company of beautiful beasts that have become her faithful followers and protectors, Circe weaves all-powerful spells against mortals and deities, the ones who threaten her peace and her honour. Until the day when one more ship arrives, seeking shelter. A vessel that carries Odysseus, the greatest of the Greeks, to her doorstep. And it is then that Circe realizes not all mortals are enemies. The gods, though? Well, that’s a different breed…
‘’Spring passed into summer, and summer into fragrant autumn. There were mists now in the morning, and sometimes storms at night. Winter would come soon with its own beauty, the green hellebore leaves shining amid the brown, and the cypresses tall and black against the metal sky.’’
This novel had been waiting patiently for two years before I finally chose to read it. I was very hesitant. As a Greek, these myths run in our blood, they are a part of our vast heritage and when I see them maltreated in the hands of writers whose purpose is to serve an agenda, all Hell breaks loose. Like Pat Barker, Madeline Miller respected the origins of Circe’s myth and Odysseus’ story and created a beautiful, moving novel of perseverance, independence and love, and a cast of balanced and exciting characters. She didn’t try to ‘’overthrown’’ Homer because this is impossible. It will never be. Homer cannot be surpassed by any writer. Not even the Bard could him justice. And Miller seemed to understand that. In this novel, you will find no caricatures, no ridiculous dividing archetypes of today’s culture. No evil VS righteous. Everyone is evil and everyone is righteous. Well, not exactly everyone. Circe’s clan is pretty horrible.
Miller recreates a beautiful, mystical scenery in the island of Aiaia, protected by spells and populated by magnificent beasts. A land as enchanting and enticing as its mistress, a determined heroine who tries to escape those who have hurt her because she was different. Some of the most legendary figures in Greek Mythology pass before our eyes and mark Circe’s course. Daedalus, Jason, Medea, Ariadne, Hermes, Apollo, Athena. Monsters, heroes, deities, all parts of a majestic tapestry. Circe is an incredible voice. Level-headed, committed to her course, but sensitive enough to bravely acknowledge that there are times when the heart has a mind of its own and there’s nothing we can about it.
Apart from Circe, there is Odysseus, portrayed as a hero that has come to dismiss the label, torn between former deeds and present regrets. There is Medea, mad with love and obsessed with a man who doesn’t deserve the unbearable sacrifice. Telemachus, every inch the son of his father, and Penelope, the definition of the faithful, honest wife of the absent warrior. Penelope, for me, was the ultimate revelation in Circe. Her character was enriched with her firm belief and Miller worked wonders in every page that depicts a conversation between Circe and Penelope.
Circe has nothing to do with a ‘’feminist approach of the Odyssey.’’ These are empty marketing labels and nothing more. They are inadequate, disrespectful and, ultimately, wrong. This novel has nothing to do with the Odyssey. Homer’s works do not need modern tropes to justify their existence. The epics are made of greatness. If someone can’t see that, I suggest they read some books. This is about Circe. Miller didn’t choose the popular way of portraying every male character as a brute. Like Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, she created nuisance heroines and heroes. She created a tale whose roots lies deep in the myths that shaped the European culture and demonstrated how legends are always relevant and eternally beloved. If someone’s looking for an agenda, try other writers who have grasped the meaning of marketing quite adeptly.
This is a beautiful book, full of respect and tenderness. If only more Greek myths retellings were like this one…
‘’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.’’