Thursday, July 19, 2018

Circe by Madeline Miller

My insomnia has a name and it is "Circe." I wasn't even expecting to like this book, you see. When I was young, my mom used to read me stories from a big book of fables about the Greek gods, and apart from Ancient Egypt and dinosaurs, Greek mythology was one of the major precociously geeky obsessions of my childhood - only the Greek gods, with their adultery, vanity, cruelty, fickle affections, and crippling humanity, had an edge on Cretaceous Park and the Egyptian pantheon: they were relatable.

So obviously, with that "inside knowledge" under my belt, I was leery of starting CIRCE. The hype didn't help, either. Lately, I've noticed a disturbing trend of people dog-piling on hype trains that seem to go absolutely nowhere for me as soon as I (reluctantly) get on board. I started CIRCE fully expecting to hate it, so I'm sure you can imagine my surprise when it didn't just blow my expectations out of the water, it made me feel... feelings.

Circe appears in Homer's Odysseus, which is an epic you were probably forced to read in high school. I was forced to read it twice - first in high school, and then in college. Circe is the witch who entices Odysseus's men with wine and food, only to turn them into pigs, and then seduces him, because why not. Miller re-imagines that story, piecing a heroic origin fable in which the woman gets center stage. We follow Circe as a young and unloved demigod, caught up in the power-play between Titan and Olympian, despised by her mother and abused by her siblings. We see her fall in love, have her heart broken, and learn not just how to be cruel - but also how to be kind. In many ways, it reminded me a bit of GAME OF THRONES, but GoT is notoriously unfriendly to its female characters, and even though countless bad things happen to Circe, she gets stronger and stronger, with grit and indefatigable spirit that none of the women in GAME OF THRONES really have.

What really sets this book apart, though, is the gorgeous writing. I wanted to highlight everything in this book. It was more quotable than Mean Girls. Circe shines from the pages like the sun-goddess that she is, and I loved seeing her character grow and develop within the framework of the gorgeous, gilded, lyrical prose. I couldn't put the book down - and it's a long book! I finished it in just a few days. Too often, authors seeking to humanize villains in fiction end up taking away the core of steel that made them a force to be reckoned with in the first place. Miller leaves Circe's steel core intact, but gives her an aching vulnerability, and a naivete that becomes the ivory tower of her immortality.

If you've been holding yourself back from this book because of the hype, I urge you to try it. This is one of the best fantasy books I've read in a while, and the writing is reminiscent of Margaret Atwood at her very best. I can't wait to see what else this author writes, and I've already put in a request for her Achilles book at the library. This book was just that good. I was very sad when it ended.

5 out of 5 stars

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