“Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.”
Madeline Miller’s second novel after The Song of Achilles has been a part of several ‘Most anticipated books of the year’ lists of 2018. It is an International No. 1 Bestseller and is shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019. It was well received by the readers and the book has garnered her lot many new fans, with me being one of them.
This is the story of Circe, the witch of Aeaea. She is the daughter of Helios, the god of the sun and a naiad. The initial plot of the story revolves around her isolation by her own family. She is the least cherished of her siblings and is often mocked because of her voice. She is timid and lives in the shadow of her father, well aware of his superiority. The only person kind to her during her childhood is her brother Aeetes.
As she grows up, she learns to keep to herself having less interaction with other nymphs (because of their not so kind behavior). Later she falls in love with a mortal named Glaucos and turns him into a god by using her witchcraft. But after his transition into a god, Glaucos stops enjoying her company and desires to marry a beautiful nymph named Scylla. Circe falls prey to the feeling of revenge and transforms Scylla into a sea monster. This leads to her exile to Aeaea. Meanwhile, Scylla plagues sailors for years to come.
The story progresses as we come across various characters involving gods from the Greek pantheon like Hermes. The book also features some very famous Greek Myths like the story of Minotaur, son of Pasiphae who happens to be Circe’s sister. We also come across Daedalus and his son Icarus. In the story of the Golden Fleece, she helps Medea and Jason by cleansing their crimes while they are fleeing from her brother. This causes conflict between Aeetes (revealed to be not so good after all), Medea’s father and Circe.
Circe later learns to use her powers for her protection from unkind sailors, men who mean to take advantage of her. She welcomes the good men and turns the bad ones into pigs and that’s how she stumbles upon Odysseus. She falls for him and bears him a child named Telegonus.
The story has a satisfactory ending which you may see for yourself (because talking too much about it will spoil it for you).
This novel is spellbinding and a real page-turner. This is a beautiful retelling of the Greek mythology and Circe is re-imagined as a goddess in a feminist light. She is a complex heroine and her character development is really well written. She turns from a not-so-powerful girl to a rebel and I absolutely love to read about fierce female characters. It was very captivating because of all the bloodshed, betrayals, adventures, monsters and whatnot. I also enjoyed all the parts where the author let other myths play in the background but the focus did not shift from Circe. I am looking forward to reading more of Madeline’s work.
( *Alert* this book does have some disturbing scenes and a little bit of cussing)
In conclusion, this was an amazing book. The plot captures your imagination and brings forth a beautiful story. I highly recommend it if you are a mythology fan and you should try it even if you are not because this book is too good to miss!