I am super tired of hearing about Odysseus. Look, he was an incredible hero of popular lore, and his story is great, but holy hells has his tale been retold a lot of times. My personal favorite version of his story is actually the trilogy by David Gemmell, starting with Lord of the Silver Bow, and I sincerely doubt anyone can top it so could we all just stop trying to retell the story of Odysseus… is what I would have said about a month ago if you asked, but then I read Circe, by Madeline Miller. Honestly, I am kinda late to the game to this one due to my reservations, and you probably know all about this, but I feel obligated to talk about it anyway because man is this a good book. Review spoilers, this thing is a hard 10/10 and everyone should read it, but I will still go through the motions like the consummate professional that I am.
Circe is one of those books that hits cult popularity on its quality alone. Apparently Madeline is famous for a different incredible historical fiction she wrote about Achilles, and I just missed the memo. However, I am here now to give my two cents: which are that everyone is right, Madeline is the real deal. Circe follows the story of, unsurprisingly, Circe – the witch that helps Odysseus in his travels. I was vaguely aware of her full story going into the novel, but Madeline somehow managed to both keep true to the tales and make me feel like I was reading Greek myths for the first time. Circe’s story starts with her time on Olympus, and catalogues her life among the gods until her eventual exile. That part covers the first half of the book, with the second following her relationship to Odysseus.
Really, the main selling point of this book is that it might have the best prose I have ever read. Her use of words is on par with any of the best prose writers of all time, and who you think is best will honestly come down to personal preference. She manages to hit the perfect combination of both flowing flowery language and a lack of pretentious writing. Her vivid descriptions will pull you in, and flood you with empathy for every character so that you feel as if you are living the book. The pacing is fast and exciting, and her take on all the myths is original and refreshing, but still feel very true.
The other thing that helps this book stand out is that it’s one of the few Greek myth novels I have read that treats the gods as more than a vague catalyst. The Greek gods are often humanized well, but they usually exist to force the actions of heroes in stories and are honestly rarely explored themselves. Circe gives a fascinating look into the daily life and politics of Mount Olympus that had me engrossed. I felt the same joy reading this book as I did as a young boy hearing about the Greek pantheon for the first time.
Circe has no flaws that I could find, and the only way I could imagine someone disliking this book is if they hated the subject matter. Madeline Miller is an once-in-a-generation talent who I will now be following closely for the rest of her career. I know I am late to this party, but if any of you are holding out on this popular book because you think it is overhyped: take it from a hold out – Circe is the real deal.
Rating: Circe – 10/10