New Role Model, Who Dis?
There is much to be said about Madeline Miller’s Circe, but I’d feel remiss if I didn’t start this review by saying that this is the first book in a very long time where I finished it and then immediately wanted to re-read it again. Filled with strength, sexuality, independence, and naturally a little magic, this story is a feminist re-telling of the banishment of Circe, daughter of Helios and Perse, and her life on Aeaea.
In a contemporary sense, readers will note Miller’s commentary on societal issues—such as the Me Too movement—as she tackles the topic of women and violence while also restructuring gender norms and preconceived notions of motherhood. So often in literature, we see the woman domesticated and trapped in these confines, and yet when Helios exiled Circe to this island, that is where she found herself, her family, and made peace with her powers. I really liked that her characterization blended traditional gender roles—which reflected Hearth Magic, Kitchen Witchery, and Herbalism—and then challenged her to move beyond her comfort level and seek answers in the sky, at the bottom of the sea, in the heart of her deepest fears. She is the best and most complicated parts of what it means to be a woman, and what’s most beautiful about her character arc, is how readers witness her struggles, her pain, all those intimate moments when she questions if she can/should be a mother, if it’s better for her die alone rather than open her heart to another person, or if justice is a fairy tale rather than a reality. She’s a goddess, yes, but we see her be human, and it’s inspiring and heartbreaking, and tragic, and wonderful.
Personally, I loved that she was unlikable at times. I like that she was hard, and calloused, and jealous, and that she wasn’t afraid to stick up for herself or protect her body. Miller takes these characteristics and builds them around a morality tale where nods to Barbara’s Creed’s theories about the monstrous feminine can be found, celebrated, and explored.
Overall, if you’re interested in mythology, ancient history, witchcraft, or feminist retellings, I think you’ll not only love this book, but learn from it, too. And if you read or are familiar with Greek Mythology, you’ll see that yes, Circe is known for being a wicked sorceress, for turning men into pigs, and we see that part of her here, but we also see why she might be like that.
True, his book gives her a heart, but most importantly, it gives her a voice.
5 out of 5 stars