CirceCirce by Madeline Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love mythology and fantasy, so Circe seemed like it would be the perfect meld, and it was. It will make a great TV series too; there's lots to work with. Although I heartily recommend it, it's not a perfect 5 stars, more of a 4.7. The pace seemed to slow at the halfway point. There were several incidences of Circe turning men into swine. I totally got it on the first one and didn't like the repetition. Some of the middle could be shortened. When I got to the ending, it turned into a 6 stars. The ending is poetic and masterful.

Miller depicted Circe as a renegade who was not well accepted by the other gods or her parents, the Titan Helios and the nymph Perse. The gods are beautiful and vain and live by a set of rules, but not Circe. She has an ugly hawk voice and yellow eyes and is ungainly. She sides with her uncle, Prometheus, for helping mankind and tries to ease his torment. Prometheus has made trouble for the gods; they aren't so needed any more. Man has been handed a kind of divine spark in the form of fire and can create his own warmth, tools and light. Circe, although immortal, has no actual powers as a god, and turns to witchcraft to compensate. Again the gods feel threatened and she is exiled to Aiaia, a remote island, for eternity.

She turns men who come to her island into pigs and there is a descriptive gross out with ribs cracking and flesh separating during the transformation. Except for turning soldiers who try to rape her into pigs, Circe feels closer to mankind than the gods. The inner beauty of the story is that Circe grows in wisdom over the span of centuries. She is alone and ignorant in the beginning and uses witchcraft to do some pretty horrible things, such as creating Scylla the multi-headed monster to devour men. When Odysseus comes to her island she is taken with his seeming great intelligence and leadership. Later, when Odysseus is dead and his wife and son, Penelope and Telemachus, come to Aiaia, she hears their story and sees Odysseus for who he really is; a vain and self-glorifying killer.

Circe and Odysseus had a son, Telegonus, and she learns how to let go of her selfish and overly protective mother's love and releases him to Athena to become a great leader and king. As her self-knowledge grows with time she wants to put an end to the pain she has inflicted on sailors and enlists Telemachus' help to poison Scylla. She finds growing contentment in her relationship with him but finds that her immortality stands in the way of her happiness. Because he is mortal and will die she won't be able to join him in the underworld where he will exist for eternity. Telemachus renounces his opportunity to be a great man like his father, whom he has come to abhor for his vanity and murderous qualities, and Circe is moved by this. The transformative moment for me came as a wow-rush at the very end when Circe made her decision to transform herself into a mortal. Maybe humanity isn't so bad after all.

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