Miller’s novel charms like a good bedtime story; she understands our inexhaustible appetite for myths starring our favorite characters, and that we don’t want these stories to end ... Miller’s technique echoes Circe’s alchemical powers, as she makes these minor characters more than mere references. She performs a sleight of hand on the gods; instead of figures of ambivalent and shifting grace, favoritism, and destruction in relation to humanity, Miller’s gods for the most part hold human beings in contempt. The gods are chilling: their immortality makes them incapable of love ... Miller has a gift for creating settings that summarize their inhabitants, along with swiftly brushstroked traits and habits that define characters ... Miller transcends her fairy-tale models, though she returns to them at the book’s conclusion, somewhat predictably, but still poignantly. Miller understands that the best fairy tales are not only wish fulfillments but also stories of the denial of wishes. She manages to combine both elements in her finale, creating an ending that is simultaneously happy and unhappy.
As with her previous novel, the great skill here is the way Miller gives voice to a previously muted perspective in the classics, forging a great romance from the scraps left to us by the ancients. If The Song of Achilles recovered a half-buried homosexual love story from the Iliad, Circe gives us a feminist slant on the Odyssey ... Miller has made a collage out of a variety of source materials–from Ovid to Homer to another lost epic, the Telegony–but the guiding instinct here is to re-present the classics from the perspective of the women involved in them, and to do so in a way that makes these age-old texts thrum with contemporary relevance. If you read this book expecting a masterpiece to rival the originals, you’ll be disappointed; Circe is, instead, a romp, an airy delight, a novel to be gobbled greedily in a single sitting.
...Miller has determined, in her characterization of this most powerful witch, to bring her as close as possible to the human — from the timbre of her voice to her intense maternal instincts ... Circe is very pleasurable to read, combining lively versions of familiar tales (like the birth of the Minotaur or the arrival of Odysseus and his men on Circe’s island) and snippets of other, related standards (a glance at Daedalus and Icarus; a nod to the ultimate fate of Medea after she and Jason leave Aiaia) with a highly psychologized, redemptive and ultimately exculpatory account of the protagonist herself. That said ... It’s a hybrid entity, inserting strains of popular romance and specifically human emotion into the lives of the gods. Idiosyncrasies in the prose reflect this uneasy mixture ... In spite of these occasional infelicities and awkwardnesses, Circe will surely delight readers new to the witch’s stories as it will many who remember her role in the Greek myths of their childhood ... Purists may be less enchanted, bemused by Miller’s sentimental leanings and her determination to make Circe into an ultimately likable, or at least forgivable, character. This narrative choice seems a taming, and hence a diminishment, of the character’s transgressive divine excess.
Although she writes in prose, Miller hews to the poetic timber of the epic, with a rich, imaginative style commensurate to the realm of immortal beings sparked with mortal sass ... While working within the constraints of the The Odyssey and other ancient myths, Miller finds plenty of room to weave her own surprising story of a passionate young woman banished to lavish solitude ... There will be plenty of weeping later in this novel, although it’s likely to be your own. In the story that dawns from Miller’s rosy fingers, the fate that awaits Circe is at once divine and mortal, impossibility strange and yet entirely human.
Miller is clearly on intimate terms with the Greek poem. The character of Circe only occupies a few dozen lines of it, but Miller extracts worlds of meaning from Homer's short phrases ... Miller makes Circe's human voice the beginning of a (fraught, because inherently temporary) kinship with mortals that is one of the novel's loveliest strains ... Circe insists that labor, as much as love, makes a life.
Miller beautifully voices the experiences of the legendary sorceress Circe ... With poetic eloquence and fine dramatic pacing, Miller smoothly knits together the classic stories of the Minotaur, the monster Scylla, the witch Medea (Circe’s niece), events from Homer’s Odyssey, and more, all reimagined from a strong-minded woman’s viewpoint ... This immersive blend of literary fiction and mythological fantasy demonstrates that the Greek myths are still very relevant today.
…Circe by Madeline Miller…thrilled me. This young classicist has brought Greek mythology to life … her elaboration of mostly inexplicable deeds will make you think about the Greek gods and the humans they dealt with in a completely new way. Indeed, by the time you finish this novel, you will be amazed by what she has done with the characters of Odysseus and Telemachus. Based on the facts as we have them, Miller’s version of events makes emotional and artistic sense. Circe, like its main character, is magical.
...[a] gorgeous and gimlet-eyed follow-up to her Orange Prize-winning first novel ... There’s exhilaration in watching her build the life she wants and defend it when it’s threatened. But for the mortal reader, there’s a bittersweet edge to this fantasy. For Circe, it is never too late for romance, if she decides she wants it; never too late to have a child, if she chooses motherhood. And despite all the many ages it took her to recognize her powers, and even more to understand them, there is no clock ticking on her ability to practice her craft.
[Miller] unfurls the story of the legendary witch from Homer’s Odyssey with lyric intensity ... The elemental allure of mythology, with its magic and mystery and questions of fate and free will, is presented here with added freshness that comes from seeing this world from a female perspective. Like its heroine, this is a novel to underestimate at your peril.
Miller's Circe is not exactly the entire Odyssey retold through a new point of view. The novel is indeed a response to the myth of Odysseus because, through Circe, we see the hero very differently. This is definitely Circe's story — one that has had various conflicting versions over time — with the Odyssey as the backdrop, or the side-show ... One might go so far as to say that Miller has aimed to also highlight the complex, cumulative ways that different forms of discrimination between different groups combine, overlap, and intersect. If only, along the way, she had attempted some new twists to the traditional male versus female dynamic ... In the end, what's most interesting about Circe is that the recreation of the various Odyssey myths throughout is a kind of subversion of the above 'perennial philosophy' ... So the final, radical decision — which is not among the more commonly known endings of the various versions of Circe's story — is wholly fitting and satisfying, given her own psychological transformation.
The novel is at its most incisive when Circe must reckon with worlds in which she does not quite belong ... Through her elegant, psychologically acute prose, Miller gives us a rich female character who inhabits the spaces in between.
Circe’s tale lacks the sweeping arc and central romance of Achilles. Her narrative is more episodic, a string of feuds and love affairs occasionally bisected by myth’s greatest hits (Prometheus, the Minotaur, Helen of Troy). But Miller, with her academic bona fides and born instinct for storytelling, seamlessly grafts modern concepts of selfhood and independence to her mystical reveries of smoke and silver, nectar and bones. And if the Circe that emerges from her imagination isn’t exactly human — technically, she can’t be — she is divine.
Madeline Miller's re-imagining of the witch Circe from The Odyssey makes for an intriguing, feminist adventure novel that is perfectly suited for the #TimesUp moment ... Miller wittily allows her protagonist to comment on the Homeric version while quietly mocking its male chauvinism ... Miller mines intriguing details from the original tale to imagine a rich backstory for Circe that allows readers to re-visit the world of Olympians and Titans in Greek mythology ... Ultimately, however, the book provides a remarkable coda to The Odyssey that will cause readers to rethink the original and to ponder the long-term consequences of war on family, country and psyche.
It took me a while to get around to Circe, Madeline Miller’s extremely popular 2018 novel told from the perspective of the island-dwelling witch from The Odyssey. Friends had raved about it circa its publication. I’d read one page and put it down, finding it too hard to get into the narrator’s formal, serious Ancient Greekness. Then, two years later, novels featuring contemporary people stopped being able to hold my attention. Characters went to bars and museums, rode the subway, walked around with their faces uncovered. I couldn’t relate. Time to read about an immortal demigoddess with the power to turn men into pigs! ... As usual, I had managed to let a book’s popularity distract me from the possibility that it might be delightful. Circe, despite her seen-it-all attitude, is great company: long-suffering but never self-pitying, full of intriguing insights into the behavior of her fellow immortals ... the book’s heightened tone threatens to shift into melodrama but never does. The quotidian nature of sexual violence speaks for itself. Miller doesn’t belabor the idea that Circe, though exceptional in many ways, faces universal woes. The only difference is the literal eternity she has to live with her trauma.
Miller knows that, as with the best magical realism, the real power doesn’t lie in the ostensible facts of the narrative, but in its psychology. And that is where Miller anchors her story – in the emotional life of a woman ... It is out of these insights, sprung as surprises that often contain within them a retrospective inevitability, that Miller achieves real narrative propulsion. Some will consider her prose too purple, her plotting too neat, but others will find it supple, pitched in a register that bridges man and myth.
Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside 'the tonic of ordinary things.' A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells. Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.
Bestowing modern feminist mores on classical texts may seem unwise, but it’s marvellous to see this Circe emerge through the haze, sympathetic and ringing true to 21st-century motivations ... Miller’s Me Too-era, kickass portrait of a woman trying to defy the men and Fates arrayed against her may be light reading, but it is rather enchanting.
Weaving together Homer’s tale with other sources, Miller crafts a classic story of female empowerment. She paints an uncompromising portrait of a superheroine who learns to wield divine power while coming to understand what it means to be mortal.