Audiobook Review: Circe by Madeline Miller
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Mythology
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Hachette Audio (April 10, 2018)
Length: 12 hrs and 8 mins
Narrator: Perdita Weeks
When I was a kid, I had this encyclopedia of Greek myths that I loved. However, like all reference materials, the stories in it were presented in a rather dull, textbook-like style—good enough if you’re simply looking up a name, or just want the straight up details…except I wanted more. As a child, going through that big book and reading about all these Greek gods and goddesses doing amazing, uncanny things, I always imagined in my mind what they would think or feel if they were real people with actual emotions and personalities.
In the end, I believe this is why I enjoyed Circe so much. I’ve been dreaming about a book like this ever since I was a kid, and while I’ve not had the pleasure of reading Song of Achilles yet, I’ve heard that this sort of Greek myth retelling is what Madeline Miller is known for. Not only does the author bring our favorite mythological figures to life, she also takes them to newer and higher limits by exploring their hearts, minds, and voices.
In Circe, Miller presents an almost memoir-like narrative about the titular character, a relatively minor goddess compared to some of the bigger, more famous names in the pantheon. Here, however, Circe gets her chance to shine, as readers are treated to a glimpse into her strange and wonderful life which was only lightly touched upon in Homer’s Odyssey. Born to the sun god Helios and the water nymph Perse, our protagonist unfortunately inherited none of her father’s godlike abilities nor any of her mother’s ravishing charms. As a result, growing up, she was often disregarded and ignored, until one day, she discovers that she does in fact possess a special power—a type of witchcraft that allows her to transform her enemies into wild beasts and monsters.
Threatened by the implications of this, Zeus sends Circe into exile, which is how she ends up on the island of Aiaia, where, as the story famously goes, she meets Odysseus and turns most of his crew into pigs. But this book is about so much more. Readers get the chance to journey with Circe as she crosses paths with some of the most well-known figures of Greek mythology. Through her eyes, we also get to experience important moments like the fall of Icarus and even the birth of the Minotaur. And yet, above all else, this is Circe’s tale. We watch as our protagonist continues to develop her abilities and hone her craft every day, because in a world full of danger and vengeful gods, her magic is the only way to protect those she loves.
It’s amazing how a bit of context and character development has managed to totally transform Circe’s story and add layers of nuance. In this book, she is more than just a “witch”, “goddess”, or any other kind of label; she is as human as she can be in her emotions and motivations—imperfect and genuine. Miller’s version of Circe is deeply sympathetic character, despite the cruel and awful things she has done. She has led a harsh life, which has led her to make harsh decisions, and whether you agree with her or not, what’s clear is that Circe is driven by much of the same things as all of us. She has hopes, dreams, regrets, and fears. She also cares fiercely for those she loves, and will do anything to keep them safe—even if it means facing down powerful foes or challenging fate itself.
I also loved how we got to see Circe grow as the book progressed through the various stages of her life, from her time as a child being overshadowed by her more zealous siblings, to her eventual motherhood and overprotectiveness for her son Telegonus. In between, there is so much more as Circe struggles to figure out her role in the family, and then of course there is her forced isolation and the abuses she suffered at the hands of both mortals and the gods. However, there are also moments of lightness and triumph that shine through, like when Circe discovers wonders like falling in love or the power of magic. Furthermore, her vices are counterbalanced by her virtues, such as her determination and strength.
There’s not much else I can say other than I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Kudos to Madeline Miller for deftly transforming Circe’s tale into this gorgeous work of art, giving the character heart and soul. Without a doubt, Circe is a mythology retelling done right.
Audiobook Comments: A book like Circe requires a talented narrator, since it follows the main character through such a wide range of emotions. I’m happy to say that Perdita Weeks was up to the task. I could find no fault at all with her performance, which was absolutely flawless and outstanding. A wonderful listening experience all around.