Circe – A Feminist Retelling of the Famous Witch in Greek Mythology

Circe Book Review by Madeline Miller - Book Review by Fanana. Greek Mythology For Feminists

Circe Book Review

This was just the second book I read this year, but I can already tell that it’s probably my favourite of 2019.

The only reason I picked this book up was because the good people at Books on Toast recommended it as one of the best books of 2018 and from their words, Circe sounded like a feminist badass. Before starting this book, I was apprehensive – I pretty much knew nothing about Greek mythology. As a kid, I played a Hercules computer game, but beyond that, I had no interest in Titans or Olympians or whatever. The movies and stories were too macho and violent for my taste.

But this book changed me. I never thought I’d say this, but now I am curious about Troy, and Clash of the Titans, and Minotaur, and the Percy Jackson movies.

The Story

“When I was born, the name for what I was didn’t exist.”

Circe is the daughter of a god and a nymph. However, she is a black sheep – she neither has the powers of a god nor is she as beautiful as nymphs are supposed to be. Her personal tragedy starts from this unfortunate birth situation, but the rest of her life isn’t easy either. Her mom’s an asshole, her dad’s an asshole, her brother and sister are also assholes. She gets a new baby brother and they have a beautiful relationship as she raises him with all the love she never got, but, no surprises there, he also turns out to be an asshole.

Being reprimanded by her family, Circe lives a lonely life, until she falls in love with a mortal. Her life takes a different turn here as she goes through rage, jealousy and vengeance, eventually being exiled to an island far away from home.

The Character Arc

It is on this island that she finally becomes herself. She meets many people and learns many hard lessons, as she practises witchcraft, falls in love, and unwittingly shares her life with many others in a life that was supposed to be lived in seclusion.  

Why this Book?

Madeline Miller wrote this book because she hated how Circe was depicted in all the classics – all written by men, of course. Circe was always painted as a jealous witch who turned men who crossed her into animals. This book shows us who Circe really was – a strong, intelligent and kind nonconformist who lived among lions and was feared by men.

It was somehow both heartwarming and heartwrenching to see her transformation from kind-and-naive Circe to brutal-vindictive Circe.

Circe is complex, she has gone through abuse, and she understands that women are treated differently and unfairly than men. Madeline Miller’s Circe has a great origin story and her life is so interesting that you often find yourself fantasising about how life would have been if you were a lesser Greek God. Hmmm.    

Gateway Drug to Greek Mythology

Also, this book has a lot of ‘guest appearances’ by well-known names in Greek Mythology – think Zeus, Prometheus, Odysseus, Helen, Paris, Achilles, Daedalus, Icarus, Scylla, Medea, and the Minotaur! Basically, I got a taster of all the characters in Greek mythology with this book, and now I am hungry for more. Dying to read Song of Achilles, also by the same author.

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