Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

The value praying to Gods is ingrained each one of us ever since we can remember. Our strong belief in a higher power helps us overcome problems. But, what if Gods are just as brutal and fickle-minded as mortals? Madeline Miller’s Circe helped see this possibility while educating me about Greek myths.

So many years I had spent as a child sifting his bright features for his thoughts, trying to glimpse among them one that bore my name. But he was a harp with only one string, and the note it played was himself.

“You have always been the worst of my children,” he said. “Be sure to not dishonor me.”

“I have a better idea. I will do as I please, and when you count your children, leave me out.

There is a thin line between writing beautiful prose and boring a reader. Miller’s description of Greek mythology hits the mark with just the right concoction of both. Our protagonist, Circe, a daughter Helios, is overlooked and ridiculed her whole childhood for having lack of abilities. Her mother hates her, while her father dismisses her presence. Until one day Circe accidentally discovers her prowess in witchcraft and is sent into an exile on a remote island. From thereon begins her transformation to becoming an immortal goddess the world is yet to see.

Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.

It didn’t matter that I lacked knowledge of myths as Miller gives a brief explanation after introducing new characters. She skillfully describes the hatred between Olympians and Titans. Their malice towards their kin knows no bounds. Oftentimes, Circe’s character makes you wonder if the gift of eternal life is truly a boon.

Miller brilliantly captures Circe’s triumphs, self-discovery, angst and the melancholia of living an eternity alone. Even as a goddess, she isn’t exempted of the misogynistic stereotypes that are laid upon her. In history, women were burnt on a pyre for being accused of practising witchcraft. Through Circe’s magical (pun intended) and unforgettable tale, Miller gives Circe her voice back by writing about a strong witch she was.

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