Summer Reading – Circe by Madelaine Miller.

With the usual summer debauchery being either too difficult or too scary this year, I wonder how many of us have turned to more solitary pursuits to pass the time. Specifically, I wonder how many of us have read more than we usually do. 

I know people who have turned to books, for the first time in a good while, to find brief escapes from reality. Conversely, I know people who have always read but have found it particularly hard this year to settle their minds sufficiently to commit to a whole book. I can understand that feeling. Sometimes, the instant gratification of the telly or a magazine is a quicker and easier way to lose yourself.

I’ve watched a few of those programmes myself. The sort you wouldn’t normally be bothered with. But I have carried on reading. Probably not as much as I normally do, but what I have read has been engrossing. Over the next few posts, I’ll tell you about some of them. Here’s the first:

Circe by Madelaine Miller

A retelling of the story of Circe the Witch, a fairly minor Greek God. This book was passed on to me by my daughter. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it but I as wrong. The more I read the more it captivated me and, although it was based on a myth – a fairy tale, if you like – the story felt incredibly contemporary.

Friendless and despised by her family Circe leads a lonely existence because she doesn’t fit the usual mould. When she falls in love with a mortal, she makes a mistake that changes her life forever. As a consequence of her actions she is exiled to the island of Aiaia. However, far from it being the end of her, Circe finds that, away from the tyranny of her family, she flourishes.  

One of the interesting themes in Circe’s story is the difference between the Gods and mortals. Contrary to normal teachings, it’s the Gods who are spoilt, selfish and feckless whereas the mortals are mainly honest and hardworking. Circe character’s is a complicated one that seems to straddle both camps. Often, she’s naïve and far too trusting and yet she is as capable of cruelty as the rest of her kin. Her need for affection is all too human. Desperate for it and with only the worst possible role models to draw on, Circe falls for the wrong kind of men.

Another interesting theme is the balance of power. A gradual awakening in Circe brings a realisation of where the real power lies. Although the pointers are there throughout her life, it takes a couple of thousand years for her to understand that women are constantly controlled, used and abused by men. Some of them Gods, some of them mortals.  

As she ages, Circe grows in wisdom and bravery. When she becomes a mother, all of her strength and skill is needed to singlehandedly protect her son. After finally meeting her soul mate, she summons up the courage to confront her brutal father and literally, blow her demons out of the water. As the book closes, we see her summoning all of her spirit and determination to take one last step into the unknown – her true self.

The story of Circe is an epic one. Its beating heart is a woman. A God who is as human as any of us.

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