The Short Review: The feminist manifesto for the mythological world. Thoughtful, powerful, and engaging. If you like mythology, feminist reads, or just books about women living their lives, you'll love this.
The Long Review: I actually had to give myself time to think about what I wanted to say, in regards to Circe. I'd just read The Odyssey and was so angry at its treatment of women. What's been even more frustrating has been the number of people willing to defend the mistreatment and objectification of women in The Odyssey, only because it was written so long ago. So, to start Circe and realize just how much respect and power Madeline Miller had given her was a joy. If you've ever been frustrated by the way these older tales have treated women, this is the antidote to that poisonous sexism.
There's a scene early on that I feel like perfectly captures the way women were viewed and how they must've felt they had to view themselves at the time The Odyssey (and Circe) took place.
("You are a daughter of Helios, are you not?" he said, when he had finished and stepped back.
"Yes." the question stung. If I had been a proper daughter, he would not have had to ask. I would have been perfect and gleaming with beauty poured straight from my father's source.)
Not only does this man not recognize Circe, but she feels it's her fault that she appears to be a nobody to him. The only way she can say she would be perfect is if she were like her father, the predominant male figure in her life. Which, thankfully, this book does a great job of exploring that in the most natural progression.
It did get a little slow for me towards the middle of this book, but I think it was only because I had already developed negative feelings towards Odysseus from reading The Odyssey. I think Madeline Miller gives such care to her characters that you never hate any of them without understanding their actions, and I felt myself warming to Odysseus without even wanting to.
Speaking of the handling of women in The Odyssey, Circe directly addresses this at the beginning of another chapter:
"Later, years later, I would hear a song made of our meeting. The boy who sang it was unskilled, missing notes more often than he hit, yet the sweet music of the verses shone through his mangling. I was not surprised by the portrait of myself: the proud witch undone before the hero's sword, kneeling and begging for mercy. Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep."
I know I keep harping about my frustrations over the treatment of women in The Odyssey, but my point is that if you've been really frustrated with how men have always treated women, Circe is the book for you. It acknowledges these issues while changing the narrative and filling in the lives of the women we never got to know anything about. There's no excuse to treat women poorly now, and there was no excuse at the beginning of time.
The writing is really good, and the story is compelling, but the best part is that Circe feels like a whole person. We don't spend enough time telling women's stories and we definitely don't spend enough time reading them (at least the good ones) so I urge you to check it out. I didn't even realize how much I loved and needed this book until now.
Anyway, sorry for basically talking about feminism instead of this book, but I really do think the two go hand in hand. If you've read Circe, I'd love to know your thoughts. Leave a comment down below or DM me on my instagram, @shelfbyshelf . Hope you're having a great day and I'll see you in my next review!