Skip to main content
Displaying 1 of 1
Circe : a novel
Please select and request a specific volume by clicking one of the icons in the 'Find It' section below.
Find It
Map It
Large Cover Image
Trade Reviews

  New York Times Review

IRECALL WITH intense pleasure my discovery in childhood of the Greek myths and Homer's "Iliad," in various editions, from an early acquaintance with d'Aulaire's to Roger Lancelyn Green's versions and, at the French school I attended for several years, a collection memorably entitled "Mythes et Légendes du Monde Grecque et Barbare." Homer proper came later, in high school, affording both similar and distinct pleasures. In all versions, the concision and openness of the accounts were essential: Somehow authoritative rather than vague, they allowed an exhilarating freedom of imagination. As familiar as those from the Bible, these stories saturate our literary history, in renditions and translations, allusions and transformations. Mary Renault stands as the 20th-century exemplar of the fully imagined retelling, most famously with "The King Must Die," in which she granted Theseus his voice and conjured for readers the minute and vivid details of his upbringing and heroic deeds. More recently, Madeline Miller, a classicist and teacher, published "The Song of Achilles": Widely acclaimed and translated, it received the Orange Prize for fiction in 2012. In that novel, Miller took on the story of Achilles from the perspective of Patroclus, his intimate and, in Miller's version, his lover. Her fresh and contemporary understanding of this ancient story from the "Iliad" thrilled many and unnerved others. In this newspaper, Daniel Mendelsohn described the book as having "the head of a young adult novel, the body of the 'Iliad' and the hindquarters of Barbara Cartland" - ironically a fitting contemporary monster for the task of bringing the "Iliad" to a new readership. Like its predecessor, Miller's new book, "Circe," illuminates known stories from a new perspective. Those familiar with the "Odyssey" will of course recall the wanderer's visit to her island Aiaia - she's perhaps best known as the witch who turns the sailors into pigs, and yet who ultimately invites Odysseus to be her lover and to abide with her, along with his men, for a year. Others will recall that Circe - Medea's aunt, the sister of her father, Aeetes - cleansed Medea and Jason of their crimes, as they fled Colchis with the Golden Fleece and murdered Medea's brother. She features, too, in the story of the Minotaur: Pasiphae, wife of King Minos and mother of Phaedra, Ariadne and the Minotaur (fathered, of course, by a sacred bull), is Circe's sister. In all of these stories, Circe is at once important and liminal just as she is a figure of uncertain powers, a minor immortal, the daughter of Helios, god of the sun and a Titan, and Perse, a lowly naiad. Miller, writing once again in the first person ("The Song of Achilles" was narrated by Patroclus), gives voice to Circe as a multifaceted and evolving character. Her unhappy youth is explained, as the eldest and least cherished of Perse's children by Helios, mocked for her unlovely voice (she will learn later, from Hermes, that "you sound like a mortal"). Secretly kind to Prometheus after he is condemned for giving fire to the humans, she is exiled to Aiaia not for this transgression but for her use of witchcraftto turn the mortal Glaucos, with whom she is in love, into a god; and, when Glaucos spurns her for the beautiful but feckless nymph Scylla, for transforming her into the sea monster who will plague sailors for generations. According to Miller's version, Circe is initially chiefly unhappy and immature, given to thoughtless lashing out that she lives to regret. When she cleanses Jason and Medea of their crimes, it is not because she is herself amoral but because she doesn't know what those crimes are: When the pair ask her for "katharsis," "It was forbidden for me to question them." Later, when she transforms sailors into pigs, her apparent malice is revealed in fact to be self-defense born of her isolation and mistreatment at the hands of sexual predators. When she deals with good men, like Daedalus, for whom she feels compassion ("he, too, knew what it was to make monsters"), she is filled with benevolent emotion; and even when her arguably evil brother Aeetes comes to Aiaia in search of Medea, she records feeling "a pleasure in me so old and sharp it felt like pain," and recalls innocently that "as a child, he had liked to lean his head upon my shoulder and watch the sea gulls dip to catch their fish. His laugh had been bright as morning sun." Eventually, Circe will bear a child by Odysseus, a boy named Telegonus (although some versions of the myth have her bearing several boys); and Miller grants her, at this juncture, a profoundly human complex of emotions, from despair at the infant's constant screaming to a profound and unconditional maternal ardor: "When he finally slept . . . a love so sharp it seemed my flesh lay open. I made a list of all the things I would do for him. Scald offmy skin. Tear out my eyes. Walk my feet to bones, if only he would be happy and well." Motherhood, then, is what renders Circe fully recognizable, postpartum depression and all. As this passage makes clear, Miller has determined, in her characterization of this most powerful witch, to bring her as close as possible to the human - from the timbre of her voice to her intense maternal instincts. The brutal insouciance of her fellow immortals - whether her sharptongued mother, Perse; or chilly Hermes; or righteous Athena enraged - proves increasingly alien to this thoughtful and compassionate woman who learns to love unselfishly. It is an unexpected and jolly, if bittersweet, development, and one rather closer to Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" than to traditional Greek myth. "Circe" is very pleasurable to read, combining lively versions of familiar tales (like the birth of the Minotaur or the arrival of Odysseus and his men on Circe's island) and snippets of other, related standards (a glance at Daedalus and Icarus; a nod to the ultimate fate of Medea after she and Jason leave Aiaia) with a highly psychologized, redemptive and ultimately exculpatory account of the protagonist herself. That said, Daniel Mendelsohn's assessment of Miller's earlier book pertains, perhaps even more so in this instance: It's 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: Circe sometimes speaks with syntactic inversions that recall Victorian translations from Greek ("frail she was, but crafty, with a mind like a spike-toothed eel"; "a year of peaceful days he had stayed with me"; "young he was, but not a fool"), and at other moments, in a surprising contemporary vernacular ("Meanwhile every petty and useless god would go on sucking down the bright air until the stars went dark") occasionally punctuated by overly familiar phrases (that laugh, above, "bright as morning sun"; or this odd deployment of cliché: "My blood ran cold to see his greenness"). 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: Like a good children's book, it engrosses and races along at a clip, eliciting excitement and emotion along the way. The novel's feminist slant also appeals, offering - like revisions of Medea including Rachel Cusk's 2015 adaptation of the play or David Vann's 2017 novel "Bright Air Black" - a reclamation of one of myth's reviled women. Purists may be less enchanted, bemused by Miller's sentimental leanings and her determination to make Circe into an ultimately likable, or at least forgivable, character. This narrative choice seems a taming, and hence a diminishment, of the character's transgressive divine excess. Circe becomes here a thoughtful and compassionate woman who learns to love unselfishly. CLAIRE MESSUD is the author, most recently, of "The Burning Girl."

  Publishers Weekly Review

Miller follows her impressive debut (The Song of Achilles) with a spirited novel about Circe's evolution from insignificant nymph to formidable witch best known for turning Odysseus's sailors into swine. Her narrative begins with a description of growing up the awkward daughter of Helios, the sun god. She does not discover her gift for pharmakeia (the art of using herbs and spells) until she transforms her first love, a poor fisherman, into a god. When he rejects her in favor of vain Scylla, Circe turns Scylla into a sea monster. Now considered dangerous, Circe is exiled to an island, where she experiments with local flora and fauna. After returning from a visit to Crete to help her sister give birth to the Minotaur, Circe is joined on the island by errant nymphs sentenced to do their penance in her service. By the time Odysseus's ship arrives, winding its way home from the Trojan War, Circe reigns over a prosperous household. Welcome guests enjoy her hospitality; unwelcome guests are turned into wild pigs. Neither the goddess Athena nor the deadliest poison known to man makes Circe flinch. 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. Agent: Julie Barer, the Book Group. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

  School Library Journal Review

Circe, daughter of the sun god Helios, mightiest of the Titans, was a peculiar child who had few of the gifts the demigods enjoyed, and she was despised by her parents and numerous sisters for her deficits. What she lacked in godlike ability, though, she compensated for with a gift for herbology and witchcraft. When she is rejected by her first love, the mortal Glaucos-who pines instead for the beautiful nymph Scylla-Circe casts a spell that turns Scylla into a hideous sea creature. For her transgression, Circe is banished by Zeus to an island, where she survives alone until Odysseus, "son of Laertes, the great traveler, prince of wiles and tricks," lands upon her shores and is seduced by her. Drawing on the mythology of the classical world, Miller deftly weaves episodes of war, treachery, monsters, gods, demigods, heroes, and mortals into her second novel of the ancient world (after the Orange Prize-winning The Song of Achilles). Prometheus and Medea are among those who also make an appearance here. VERDICT This absorbing and atmospheric read will appeal to lovers of Greek mythology.-Jane Henriksen Baird, formerly at Anchorage Public Library, AK © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
#1 New York Times Bestseller <br> " A bold and subversive retelling of the goddess's story, Circe manages to be both epic and intimate in its scope, recasting the most infamous female figure from the Odyssey as a hero in her own right." --- Alexandra Alter, New York Times <br> 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.<br> <br> 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.<br> <br> 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.<br> <br> 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.<br> <br>
Librarian's View
Displaying 1 of 1