The follow-up to the Orange Prize-winning The Song of Achilles, an epic novel following Circe, the banished witch daughter of Helios, as she hones her powers and interacts with famous mythological beings before a conflict with one of the most vengeful Olympians forces her to choose between the worlds of the gods and mortals.
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.