Never judge a book by its cover. Circe is absolutely beautiful but ridiculously boring. Madeline Miller’s debut novel, The Song of Achilles, won the Orange Prize for Fiction and received much praise so a lot was expected of her second novel, a vague retelling of Homer’s epic Greek poem The Odyssey.
Though surrounded by gods and monsters, the daughter of Helios is isolated from birth. The halls of the god of the sun, the mightiest Titan, are filled with Circe’s divine kin, swallowing what little divinity she possessed herself. Banished to a remote island and all alone, Circe learns to control her powers of witchcraft and meets a plethora of mortals. The nymph-turned-witch turns the great Odysseus’ crew into pigs, helps her sister give birth to a beast, and protects her island against the gods.
The story is far from fast-paced. On page 71 there’s the line ‘I stepped into those woods and my life began’ and chapter seven ends with ‘I was eager for what came,’ both of which looked to perhaps be a turning point, maybe time for the pace to pick up. However, no such luck. It was only the last hundred or so pages that were particularly gripping and it takes reading through over 200 pages of shallow characterisation and boring plotwork to get to the good bits.
It reads more like a diary than a novel. There are lots of small plots rather than a single main plot. Circe is immortal, so it makes sense that there are more stories to be told than during a mortal’s single lifetime. Perhaps it would have been better to have focused on a smaller span of her life though. It would allow for the reader to get attached to characters instead of only getting to know them for 40 pages and then them setting sail for some foreign land or dying.
The book has an unprofessional finish. There are a multitude of simple errors including a sentence that read ‘… wielding his bow once move’. Often it took reading sentences several times for them to make sense. Understandably, with it being set far in the past, syntax has developed, meaning it will be harder to read but the change has been taken further than necessary.
The final issue is the wording of the final line of the book. It is quite confusing and leaves you uncertain about Circe’s final decision and her future.
Any Cop?: It’s such a shame that this beautiful cover contains a dull story. There’s so much potential but you can only achieve so much with a retelling.