Summary and book reviews of Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe by Madeline Miller X
Circe by Madeline Miller
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2018, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2020, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Dean Muscat
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About this Book

Book Summary

Winner of the 2018 BookBrowse Fiction Award

The daring, dazzling and highly anticipated follow-up to the New York Times bestseller The Song of Achilles.

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child - not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power - the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man's world.

NPR's Weekend Edition "Books To Look Forward To In 2018"
Esquire's "The 27 Most Anticipated Books of 2018"
Boston Globe's "25 books we can't wait to read in 2018"
The Millions "The Most Anticipated: The Great 2018 Book Preview"
Cosmopolitan's "33 Books to Get Excited About in 2018"

CHAPTER ONE

WHEN I WAS BORN, the name for what I was did not exist. They called me nymph, assuming I would be like my mother and aunts and thousand cousins. Least of the lesser goddesses, our powers were so modest they could scarcely ensure our eternities. We spoke to fish and nurtured flowers, coaxed drops from the clouds or salt from the waves. That word, nymph, paced out the length and breadth of our futures. In our language, it means not just goddess, but bride.

My mother was one of them, a naiad, guardian of fountains and streams. She caught my father's eye when he came to visit the halls of her own father, Oceanos. Helios and Oceanos were often at each other's tables in those days. They were cousins, and equal in age, though they did not look it. My father glowed bright as just-forged bronze, while Oceanos had been born with rheumy eyes and a white beard to his lap. Yet they were both Titans, and preferred each other's company to those new-squeaking gods upon ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Circe struggles to find a place for herself as a woman in a man's world. What parts of her experience resonate with modern day challenges that women face?
  2. A central theme of Homer's Odyssey is a longing for "nostos"—homecoming. In what way does that theme resonate with Circe's story?
  3. How does Circe's encounter with Prometheus change her? How does it continue to affect her actions?
  4. Throughout the novel Circe draws distinctions between gods and mortals.  How does Glaucus change when he becomes a god?
  5. Circe wonders if parents can ever see their children clearly. She notes that so often when looking at our children "we see only the mirror of our own faults." What parts of herself does she see when she looks at Telegonus...
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    BookBrowse Awards
    2018

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Much of Circe is an exploration into what it means to be female in a world of men and monsters. While it is usually tenuous to compare an author's latest novel to previous work, it does feel as if Miller wrote Circe as a conscious inversion of her prize-winning debut The Song of Achilles in nearly every aspect. The pool of inspiration may be the same – primarily Homer's epics – but whereas Achilles was very much a book about mortal men coming to grips with their own version of masculinity, Circe is about a divine woman trying to consolidate her myriad feminine identities as daughter, sister, lover, mother, witch, and goddess. Graceful and majestic in equal measures, Circe is sure to leave an indelible impression on readers both new and returning to Miller's singular reworkings of Greek myths...continued

Full Review (791 words).

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(Reviewed by Dean Muscat).

Media Reviews

New York Times
Miller, writing once again in the first person, gives voice to Circe as a multifaceted and evolving character...[Circe is] a hybrid entity, inserting strains of popular romance and specifically human emotion into the lives of the gods. Idiosyncrasies in the prose reflect this uneasy mixture...In spite of these occasional infelicities and awkwardnesses, Circe will surely delight readers new to the witch’s stories as it will many who remember her role in the Greek myths of their childhood.

Washington Post
Miller keeps her novel filled with perils and romance. She’s just as successful recounting far-off adventures — such as the horror of the Minotaur — as she is reenacting adventures on the island...There will be plenty of weeping later in this novel, although it’s likely to be your own. In the story that dawns from Miller’s rosy fingers, the fate that awaits Circe is at once divine and mortal, impossibly strange and yet entirely human.

Minneapolis Star Tribune
The story of Circe's entanglement with Odysseus lasts far beyond the narrative of The Odyssey, making for compelling material to revisit. But ultimately it's as a character that Circe stands apart...Through her elegant, psychologically acute prose, Miller gives us a rich female character who inhabits the spaces in between.

Alex Preston, The Guardian
Miller has made a collage out of a variety of source materials – from Ovid to Homer to another lost epic, the Telegony – but the guiding instinct here is to re-present the classics from the perspective of the women involved in them, and to do so in a way that makes these age-old texts thrum with contemporary relevance. If you read this book expecting a masterpiece to rival the originals, you’ll be disappointed; Circe is, instead, a romp, an airy delight, a novel to be gobbled greedily in a single sitting.

Booklist
This immersive blend of literary fiction and mythological fantasy demonstrates that the Greek myths are still very relevant today.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Weaving together Homer's tale with other sources, Miller crafts a classic story of female empowerment. She paints an uncompromising portrait of a superheroine who learns to wield divine power while coming to understand what it means to be mortal.

Kirkus
Starred Review. Exhilarating ... Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

School Library Journal
Starred Review. This absorbing and atmospheric read will appeal to lovers of Greek mythology.

Author Blurb Ann Patchett, author of Commonwealth
An epic spanning thousands of years that's also a keep-you-up-all-night page turner.

Author Blurb Margaret George, author of The Confessions of Young Nero
With lyric beauty of language and melancholy evocative of Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn", Circe asks all the big questions of existence while framing them in the life story of the famous goddess who had the magic of transformations...This is as close as you will ever come to entering the world of mythology as a participant. Stunning, touching, and unique.

Author Blurb Affinity Konar, author of Mischling
Circe bears its own transformative magic, a power enabled by Miller's keen eye for beauty, adventure, and reinvention. Through the charms of a misfit heroine, the world of gods becomes stunningly alive, and the world of our own humanity - its questions, loves, and bonds - is illuminated. This book is an immense gift to anyone who reads to find their own bravery and quest.

Author Blurb Helen Simonson, author of The Summer Before the War and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Madeline Miller, master storyteller, conjures Circe glowing and alive - and makes the Gods, nymphs and heroes of ancient Greece walk forth in all their armored splendor. Richly detailed and written with such breathtaking command of story, you will be held enchanted. A breathtaking novel.

Author Blurb Eimear McBride, author of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing
Circe is the utterly captivating, exquisitely written, story of an ordinary, and extraordinary, woman's life.

Author Blurb Mary Doria Russell, author of Epitaph
Written with power and grace, this enchanting, startling, gripping story casts a spell as strong and magical as any created by the sorceress Circe.

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Beyond the Book

Nymphs in Greek Mythology

Circe, the nymphThe nature of nymphs, the "least of the lesser goddesses," as they are referred to in Circe, is central to the novel. Circe, herself a sorceress or witch nymph, is most famous for turning Odysseus' crew into wild pigs and later becoming the hero's lover and adviser. In Greek mythology, nymphs are female spirits associated with the natural world. There are various kinds of nymphs presiding over all aspects of nature such as the Naiads and Oceanids of the waters and the Dryads of the forests. There are even breeze and star nymphs such as the Aurae and Asteriae.

The nymphs are rarely central protagonists of myths and are more generally seen to be companions to the Olympians. As an infant, Zeus himself was protected and nursed by the nymphs...

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