Circe, by Madeline Miller is unlike any book I’ve ever read.
As mortals, grasping the feeling of the languid drudgery of living on and on for thousands of years seems inconceivable. Nevertheless, somehow, Miller gives us a taste of it. That is, by no means, to say that this book is either languid or drudging.
The protagonist, Circe, is born a daughter of Helios, a Greek sun god. She is given little regard throughout her father’s palace, and is called a “nymph” for her lack of power. Nymphs are typically only valued for their beauty, and since Circe is not deemed to be beautiful, she is largely scorned, ignored, or at best, merely tolerated by her family. However, when she finds out she is able to turn a man into a god, (something deemed impossible by the other gods); she realizes she is more than the worthless burden her family has made her out to be. A misuse of her powers eventually get her banished to an island where she hones her craft over time.
The story itself spans thousands of years so fluidly you would think it had been told from the perspective of someone who was actually experiencing eternity. Mortals’ entire lives seem to start and end when barely any time has passed for Circe, and gods are born and grow into adults within a paragraph.
The story so beautifully interprets the concept of living on and on, while trying to make use of oneself and trying to find purpose. It illustrates the lackadaisical indifference most gods have for mortals, and even their own immortal counterparts. It also explores empathy, and how an impervious god struggles to understand it, but why humans need it to thrive as a species. All of this is achieved through eloquent poetic prose.
Readers will experience the steady, yet defined character development of Circe as she navigates through millennia of Greek mythology. While the plot meanders in places, it is never boring. This one is a page-turner.