Last updated on July 5, 2022
If you’ve been on BookTok before, you’ve probably heard of The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller. But not as many people have been talking about Miller’s other standout novel, Circe. Like The Song of Achilles, it’s a retelling of a classic Greek myth.
Odysseus finds her island on his journey home, and ends up staying there for a year before continuing on. In The Odyssey, she’s not presented as a hero, but rather as another villain, or obstacle, that Odusseus must overcome in order to return to Ithaca. She is a sorceress who turns his crew into pigs using potions and a wand. But Miller gives Circe’s story a new breath by telling her life with her centered as the protagonist.
The daughter of Helios, the sun god, and Perse, a naiad, Circe was born a nymph. Nymphs are the least influential divinities, making her less respected (and feared) by humans. Through articulate writing, Miller leads us through Circe’s long life, including her encounters with Hermes, Athena, and Odysseus. But rather than hating her for her actions on her island, we as readers understand why she acts the way she does.
In the first few chapters, Circe’s actions might come off as frustrating for the reader because of how spineless she seems. However, once she’s isolated, we see her transform into a powerful witch who has as much agency as someone who’s imprisoned can. Of course, she’s not perfect, but her narrative is compelling nonetheless.
The story is written in the first person, with Circe narrating the events of her life. Because of this, we see Circe’s own thoughts regarding her story as she describes it to us. The writing is beautiful, as well as accessible. It’s not that challenging to understand, unlike a lot of older sources of Greek mythology. 385 pages seem to fly by as you read, and you might find yourself bewitched by Miller’s work.