Circe by Madeline Miller: A tale of stirring resilience! // Rave Book Review

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

Summary:

From birth, Circe has always looked to earn the approval of her father and the other gods, but when she is spurned and banished to the island of Aeaea, her long tale of perseverance begins there.

***Genre: Classic, mythology, romance

***Thank you to Netgalley for sending an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions stated here are solely my own and have not been influenced in any way.

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My thoughts:

Would it be of any surprise to anyone that I enjoyed this book immensely? I’ve been the biggest advocate of Madeline Miller ever since I discovered The Song of Achilles, and my great regard for her has not diminished in the slightest: Circe is a goddess’ tale of timeless resilience, and I found it an incredibly impressive endeavor.

Because to start, Circe is an inherently feminist tale, and the author does a terrific job putting you into the shoes (ahem, sandals!) of a goddess. There are highly feminist notes tackled here such as motherhood, violence against women, and the means of a woman to survive in a man-dominated world, and it was most empowering to see how flawed yet complex the women of this narrative were, such as Circe, Penelope, and Pasiphae.

Furthermore, how does one bring a sense of time or  humanity to a goddess’ life? The plight of Circe easily could’ve felt irrelevant to the reader as she is an immortal being impervious to mortal harms, yet the author imbues this character with many colors of human emotions that we can relate to such as fear, longing, and loneliness, and that truly absorbed me into Circe’s impasse of feeling cursed by her eternal life.

As for my favorite part of this book, it would be by far Circe’s visit to her sister’s kingdom. It is there that not only do we see a very moving exchange between Circe and her sister, but Circe meets a certain somebody who for the first time brings a sense of hope and love to this book; it was in such scenes that I felt such terrible joy and sadness that I was moved to tears, and even now it remains burned into my mind.

Bottom line, this book was profoundly effective at delivering a sense of isolation to its reader. Circe is thirsty for purpose and belonging, and the author immerses you into her torturous life of stagnancy; it contributed to a slow, cerebral burn, and it paid off in one of the most uplifting finales I’ve read this year. Yes.

“You threw me to the crows, but it turns out I prefer them to you.”


Recommended? Wholeheartedly!

If you loved The Song of Achilles, you will enjoy the storytelling in Circe. The fleeting moments of romance in this book were just as compelling as SoA (like, I legit cried), and I felt in some ways it was a more nuanced endeavor as characters like Circe and Oddysseus were fleshed out in morally ambiguous ways, and I loved that.

Therefore, recommended for ages 15 and up! Caution is advised as there is a case of rape in this book and a few squeamish instances of blood; this book gets more up and personal with the actions of the gods, so it will likely be a tad more graphic.


Bottom line: Ahh, so cathartic!

This book was a lonely experience, but I loved the waves of hope and despair that washed over me every other chapter. Circe is a woman stuck on an island (literally and metaphorically) who sees people come and go in her life, so it was incredibly empowering to see what kind of decisions she made at the end of her story.

Therefore, this book gets a full five stars from me. It delivers a profound message about resilience, defining your own destiny, and pushing through in times of hopelessness, and it left me beaming from ear to ear. It was lovely.

My rating: 5/5 frogs

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***Now here’s a confession. I absolutely adored this book, but I still love Song of Achilles a tad more. Which has nothing to do with the execution! SoA thrives upon the crowd-pleasing interactions between two characters whereas Circe gives you a sense of tortured loneliness, so it makes sense for the former to be inherently more enjoyable.

***And the thing is, the first thing I thought after finishing this book was: “So when’s the next book coming out?” Which is funny because Miller isn’t known for pumping out books, but this book was so lovely that I was like, “I need the next retelling, NOW.”

***As a final note, did anyone else scream when certain characters from Song of Achilles made appearances in this book? I nearly had an aneurysm, yeesh….

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85 comments

  1. I feel like I’m the only person who didn’t like this book. I found it extremely tedious and really struggled to finish it. Nothing was deep enough to enjoy, in my opinion. Shallow characterisation and a plot that moved too fast.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. this book sounds so gooodddddd?????? I’m also in love with Madeline MIller and pat and achilles, so i’m so excited to more with that aesthetic!!! my hopes and dreams are still a Madeline Miller short story from Achille’s perspective I WOULD DIE OF HAPPINESS.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ooh yes, I really want to get inside of Achilles head more too! A novella would be amazing from his perspective. 😀 Heads up though, Circe isn’t as huge on romance, so I just want to make sure you knew going into this book. 😉 Cheers lovely!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ikr? I think it was even more slow not knowing whether or not this was going to end happily, so it really was torturous in that regard. But slow reads are totally my thing , and a re-read made it all better for me. 😉 Thanks for reading!

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  3. Haha, after reading that you’d loved Song of Achilles so much, I’d been waiting for your review of this. While I’ve read it (and our thoughts about the book seem to differ a little), it’s quite interesting reading your thoughts on it… Books are so subjective? (I thought the references to Patroclus or Achilles were nice though. It felt like Miller was paying them a little ode, or that these characters were still very much alive in her mind.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree! Oh, and I’d totally understand if you didn’t enjoy this one; like you say, people’s tastes differ, and I actually had a feeling that people weren’t going to love this book as much. It’s got a VERY slow burn, and the characters aren’t as lovable as SoA I think. But I’d love to chat! What do you feel were the downfalls with this book?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m so glad you ended with that bit about chatting, because I wanted to ask you about your thoughts too. However, I’m a little worried what I’ll say will come off as disparaging. No one wants to read about why someone disliked what they personally loved—it sours the shine somehow.

        Liked by 1 person

      • So, I’ll begin by warning you that I’m not as big a Miller fan as you.

        I liked SoA, to be sure. I didn’t engage with Circe as well, and don’t remember much from it (and so this comment might have fewer examples from the latter. I’ve returned both books to the library and am writing off the top of my head)

        I thought Miller interwove myth + the Illiad wonderfully. Her writing style also just works, considering she’s rewriting classical myth? it’s a good voice?

        Liked by 1 person

      • In SoA, watching Achilles and Patroclus come together was the drive that got you flipping through the pages, but in doing so I found myself thinking—this is weirdly like fanfic???
        I didn’t dislike this about the book. You read it again for the ache when Achilles finds out that Patroclus dies, just as much as for the slow burn of their relationship building. These tropes are popular because they’re so great to read, right? It’s in so many books, in so many genres, consistent in stories published in any area of the world. (E.g. the “Main character nearly dies + loved one pines over their dying body”: see Sabriel, the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, almost all urban fantasy, romance, YA, and more). Another aspect I found quite fanfic-like was when, Character B having done Character A wrong, the damages they wrought are rammed home in one cathartic moment. (E.g. SoA, Achilles speaking to Briseis over the dead body of his lover.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • But Miller gentles all her characters. Both her books are missing some key themes you see running through the classics. Because the originals are so much uglier than Miller’s retellings! The Iliad is freaking brutal, man! It’s about the horror of war, and I don’t think this was portrayed very well in Miller (who chose to focus instead on Achilles x Patroclus). The dynamics, the interactions, the sheer scale + brutality of the situation is softened. When Patroclus is stabbed in the stomach, the sword is “stirred like in a pot” (****not word for word!) It’s missing primality.

        Miller has a tendency to soften, and explain away, or attribute situations/circumstances to some internal + inherent goodness in the main characters. (e.g. Patroclus, without having accomplished very much aside from linger in tents, is “the best of the greeks”)

        Another example: Circe. The Circe I found between these pages had been de-clawed, and it threw me off. This is the gentling I was talking about—I’d been expecting a witch goddess who ruled over her realm, and instead I met a girl who was picked on by her sister and ignored by everyone else. She’s kind + quiet + sinks into the shadows and this is not what I expected from a standout figure who inspired modern ideas of WITCH. I guess I was hoping for a little more Cersei Lannister.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Okay, cool, so feminism. You spoke about this in your review too, you said something about it being about a female goddess in a male dominated world—I agree with you on this point. I thought it too when I was reading the book. Circe is the story by a woman, and a woman living in man’s world. You can see this when the most (in)famous events of Circe’s story are explained as ways to squeeze by in this world—she turns men into pigs because they attacked her. Magic + sorcery give her power + ability where she would otherwise have none.

        But the woman in this book??? While there’s certainly very many of them (and I’d bet much more than in any original classical text, Miller seems to have expanded + reinterpreted to include women), I wonder about their characterisation. I thought they were of two extremes, either soft or petty + spiteful (Scylla, her sister and mother)—the two predominating stereotypes of women!

        I’ll insert here that your review confronted me on this belief. You spoke of how powerful Circe’s visit to her sister was… it sounds like it was in the later parts of the book, and I was skimming a great deal by then. You spoke so highly of it, I’m thinking right now—maybe I missed something?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Miller’s books, in summary, feel more like one of today’s bestselling novels (with all the tropes and characterisation) than another Iliad, perhaps. But because it’s a retelling of the epics, it’s going to inevitably draw comparison. I think, at times, I wanted it to be more visceral. I wanted ugliness. I wanted shame, the deep + corrosive awfulness of betrayal.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Man, looking back at all the responses I sent through, I see that I’ve basically written an entire essay. I’m wondering if I shouldn’t just copy and paste the entire thing into a blog post and call it a review!

        But let me know what you think, please (and I hope I didn’t slander something you love)…
        It’s so insane how we can interact so differently with a book, isn’t it? I had someone tell me they didn’t think much of Matthew Quick, and I was so bewildered

        Liked by 1 person

        • No offense at all! If there’s something I love more than gushing about a book I love, it’s critiquing a book I love. I mean, I’m quite firm about what I do or don’t like, so it doesn’t ruin my enjoyment of a book at all, even when people are pointing out its flaws. 😉

          You know, for SoA, I do think that if one was expecting a more faithful (a.k.a. realistic) adaptation of the Iliad, I can see where they’d be disappointed. I also did feel the war aspect of this book was romanticized, but because it was written from the perspective of Patroclus (who didn’t participate in the war as much, and he had a tendency to romanticize Achilles’ proclivity for fighting anyway), this lack of realism didn’t feel as jarring to me. I do get you though.

          As for Circe, I also was a bit taken aback that she didn’t have the teeth and edge that I expected (her sister was more of the witch haha) but I was pretty okay with it once I accepted this was the direction Miller wanted to go. Also, I thought the two extremes of women in this book made sense considering that Circe, her sister, and her mother grew up in the proximity of the gods, which is bound to result in extremes. Not to mention, Penelope (the only human woman presented here) was one of the more nuanced and strong characters (she had teeth, but in a smart and calculating way), so I actually came out thinking this was a good (albeit subtle) range of females here.

          But of course, that’s not to say I don’t see where you’re coming from. I think it’s a matter of how far one’s willing to stretch the interpretation of a book to fit their tastes (like me and Miller’s books), and what they’re expecting going in. I’ve had plenty of instances where I didn’t a enjoy a book because it didn’t commit as much to the source material in terms of complexity or brutality, whereas at times I didn’t enjoy a book BECAUSE of its brutality.

          So yeah, if I’d approached Circe and SoA from the same angle as you, I would’ve absolutely been in the same boat! Your critiques are perfectly reasonable, and I totally agree with them. However, I DID go in expecting a more popularized/gentled retelling (a.k.a. modern tropes) and I looooved the melancholy prose, so as you say, this is truly just a matter of difference in taste. 😛 Which is always fine! Do let me know if I missed any of your points, or of course, if I misinterpreted anything. Cheers! ❤

          Liked by 1 person

          • I’m so glad I didn’t ruin your enjoyment of the book, because I was a little worried—it’s so hard to convey tone in an online argument armed with just plain words???
            Alright, so I’m hearing that we want different things from our books. What you enjoyed in the book, I didn’t quite connect with, and what I found missing or lacking, you didn’t really want there anyway.
            Most interesting for me was the idea that godhood is a different way of existing than humans. You said that Circe + Co. lived near the gods, and therefore were of rather extreme temperaments (extremely power hungry vs. completely quiet + in the shadows)
            I’m liking this idea! I really like this idea, especially if you apply the concept to humans—they have to bend more (surrounded by those of more equal power, and so have to mediate more as opposed to completely fight/submit). The relations of power can influence the individual’s ways of interacting with the world
            Nice talking btw!!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Haha yup! Like, I can’t debunk your argument at all because your reasons for not enjoying Miller’s books are so valid, and it just comes down to a matter of taste. Though today, I’ve been thinking about what you said, and I agree; I wouldn’t have minded some more realism/brutality in SoA either, and I do think Circe would’ve benefited from having Circe be more witch-like; I mean, that’s what we were expecting from that character! I obviously still love these books, but incorporation of your points would’ve definitely elevated them to another level.

              And same, I really enjoyed discussing this with you! ❤ Also, you probably SHOULD copy/paste your comments into a blog post because you outlined your argument so nicely here; it'd be kind of a waste to not do so. 😂😂😂

              Liked by 1 person

      • hey 🙂 i’ve literally just logged on to make this comment, because it hit me today what an ahole i was. I’m sorry – i didn’t mean to talk trash about something you loved, and i apologise if this was rather awful for you. would you mind deleting all of these comments, please?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Huh?!?! No no no, you weren’t you being an a-hole at all! There’s a huge difference between trash-talking and critically discussing a book, and you definitely were in the latter! I loved the fact that you didn’t hide how you felt, because I don’t like people being afraid to step on my toes (it just doesn’t make for lively discussion) and it’s not like you told me I can’t enjoy this book either; you simply wanted to debate why we might have differing opinions, and I seriously enjoyed discussing that with you.

          Also, I was in debate club in high school. I’ve heard plenty of idiots go with the “so there!” or “your opinion sucks” argument, so the polite and logical way you were laying out your argument here didn’t offend me in the LEAST. Like, not at all. I hope you believe me on that.

          Now of course, if you still want me to delete these comments, I’d be obliged. However, I’d be really sad about since I legitimately enjoyed our debate here. 😦

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  4. I’ve been seeing this book EVERYWHERE, and I’ve never really sat down and saw what it was about. You definitely convinced me to give this a major chance. It sounds so intriguing to be inside the mind of a goddess since usually they are given to the wayside for the major gods. I also am sooooooooo in for the feminism. Wonderful review!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aww, thank you so much! Yes, this book was absolutely lovely (bit of a slow burn though, so heads up) and you should also try Song of Achilles while you’re at it! That is, if you haven’t yet haha. 😛 Cheers, and happy reading!

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  5. Omg I was waiting for your review! 100% agree with everything you said, it’s making me want to reread it even though I just read it recently 😂 ALSO, I can’t get over how satisfying that ending was?! It was literally everything I could want and I’m so happy with it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • YASSS! That ending just made the lonely journey totally worth the wait, and it felt so uplifting; it was like saying THIS is the official start to Circe’s life, and I love how Circe pretty much said “screw you” to her father at the end. 😛 Also, I’m still ridiculously in love with the Daedalus scenes; it made me cry almost as hard as SoA, which is a feat in of itself lol.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ahh oh my gosh all the scenes with him were phenomenal! And yes, even though the journey throughout Circe’s life was incredibly lonely, the author still made it so so so interesting to read! I just love the book so much! (And omg the mentions of Achilles and Patroclus totally killed me too…ugh 😭)

        Liked by 1 person

        • I know! Her books are so compelling and lovely, I can’t stop with the feels. Not to mention, I’m already pretty sure that I’ll drown in my tears for her third book too. 😂 Can’t wait until then! ❤

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  6. Yes, this book is so good! Circe was my introduction to Miller, but now I’m thinking I should hunt down a copy of Song of Achilles too. My favorite part was also when Circe visited her sister, and really, all her interactions with her family were pretty interesting, both the good and bad ones 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree! In retrospect, it was really the complex family drama that made this book so compelling to me, like Circe’s interactions with her brother and sister. Also, I’d highly recommend Song of Achilles to you! I think most people will find it more easy to warm up to than Circe, so I’m pretty sure it’ll be a cinch to enjoy. 😉 Cheers, and thanks for reading!

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  7. Ever since you mentioned those books to me, I have been super eager to read both Circe and Songs of Achilles!😊👌

    I just managed to get Circe out of my library, read a few pages last night and can not wait to carry on (once this work thing is over he he).

    Lovely review! ❤️ I know I will appreciate the feminist spin as well as the complexity of the character. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ooh, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on them! I read SoA first and felt Circe was a significantly slower burn, so I’m REALLY curious to know how someone who read it vice versa will compare them. But of course, do take your time. 😊

      Thank you so much for the lovely comment, and cheers! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Nice review! I have this on my TBR but I didn’t realise the author has written another one. I love Greek myths and retellings and so this seems like its right up my street. I still haven’t gotten round to reading ‘The Penelopiad’ by Margaret Atwood though and I think I need to rectify that immediately!!!!

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  9. I’m so glad you loved this! I recently finished The Song of Achilles, loved it and am so excited to start this. Although honestly I’m afraid to because I’ll have no more Madeline Miller books ah

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Fantastic review! I absolutely loved Madeline Miller’s take on the great Greek hero in the Song of Achilles. The relationship between him and Patroclus was hauntingly beautifully described and hit me right in the feels through and through. Can’t wait to read this one 😀

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  11. I’ve yet to read Miller’s books but your enthusiasm and love for these titles just shien through.. you touch on the most important points about this book and you really sold the book to me! Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m so glad you enjoyed this immensely! I loved Song of Achilles too and have been really anticipating this. This sounds like it was so beautifully and emotionally done as well- glad it put you in the goddess’ sandals 😉 Absolutely love the sound of this- excellent review!

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  13. Hi! Lovely review (: Right on with the feminist themes! I’m honestly not sure which one I like more — The Song of Achilles or Circe. I’m on the same boat as you — I can’t wait for Miller’s next publication.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha thank you, I’m glad you agree! And same, I’m really split on which one I like better because one I just love (SoA) and the other one I find technically more impressive (Circe). Such a hard choice. 😉 Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Enjoyed reading this! Thanks for stopping by mine and leaving a comment too 🙂 I especially liked the point you made about the sense of time and humanity brought to a goddess’s existence and how Miller has managed the challenge beautifully. I also checked out some of your other reviews and we have a lot of favourites in common! SoA, Circe, A Monster Calls, Ari and Dante, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, The Shadow of the Wind, and of course Harry Potter 😀

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