Book covers matter. They influence our first impressions, and often impact upon our decision on whether or not to even pick up a book. The cover of Circe by Madeline Miller is truly beautiful; a gold and black foiled jacket, decorated with flowers and ferns . I was massively attracted to it for much of 2018; but it also intimidated me. I didn’t think I would ‘get’ it – the perceived stumbling block being that I knew very little about Greek mythology. Yet still, it called to me.
My children (aged 10 and 14) love Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, and the only conversations sure to get them talking and engaging with each other these days (now that they are growing up and growing apart) are those about Greek gods. I often listen to them and feel like they are speaking a different language, but it is one I want to understand. Even more reason for me to try Circe!
I was still nervous. Luckily, one day when I was scrolling through Instagram, I came across #BookBuddyReads, and Circe was a read scheduled for November. I signed up and hoped for the best.
#BookBuddyReads is an Instagram book club. When you sign up, you’re allocated a group, and @bookbuddyreads suggests a start date which kicks off the conversation. My group was a real geographical mix, with some readers in the UK, and some in the USA. We sorted our mutually convenient time to chat, and agreed on the number of chapters we would read before our virtual chat. Some of the group were very knowledgeable on Greek mythology, but others weren’t. I’ll be honest, my lack of knowledge didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the book. So, what did I think?
I absolutely loved it. Madeline Miller has taken a lesser known god, and given her a story. And what a story!
Circe is a daughter from the house of Helios. Her parents have little interest in her, and her siblings are equally uninterested. After years of lonely growing up, her mother gives birth to a sibling who become’s Circe’s closest friend and ally. Yet the gods are a fickle, dis-likable bunch. Circe is soon disappointed and heart-broken by their treatment of her. Almost by accident, she discovers that she has powers none of the other gods possess; she can use herbs to transform gods and mortals. She is a witch.
“When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.”
When her father Helios learns of this, he is embarrassed. He banishes her to the island of Aaia where she is condemned to spend the rest of eternity. Ironically, it is only when she reaches the island, that she starts to feel happy.
“I stepped into the forest; and my life began.”
What follows is her tale of life on the island. She is visited by many well-known gods and mortals of mythology, who even I had heard of : Hermes, Daedalus, Odysessus and Athena to name but a few.
There are many reasons I recommend reading Circe. Madeline Miller writes beautifully, and has created a real masterpiece. I imagine that if you are a fan of the gods, you will adore it, but even if you are not, and like me, know very little, I would recommend it!
It gets a 5 star rating from me, and ranks among my ‘stand out’ reads of 2018. I definitely feel better for having faced a fear, for learning about Greek mythology while enjoying a fantastic book, and being able to understand some of what my kids are talking about!
I loved the #BookBuddyRead also and we have all signed up for The Song Of Achilles starting in January.
About Madeline Miller
Madeline Miller has a BA and MA from Brown University in Latin and Ancient Greek, and has been teaching both for the past nine years. She has also studied at the Yale School of Drama, specialising in adapting classical tales to a modern audience. The Song of Achilles is her first novel and was the winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012.