Circe by Madeline Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I know it's a cheesy way to describe a story, but I honestly cannot find a more fitting one.
So, okay... I've always loved mythology and stories of monsters and gods, and the Greek mythology is particularly fascinating. I'm pretty comfortable with the story about Odysseus (one of my first memories from school was when some very artsy artist came to our class, read us parts of The Odyssey and had us draw something from the book. If I'm not mistaken, I chose the section about how Odysseus defeated the cyclop), and I know a great many of the myths and legends and stories by heart, because I used to LOVE reading them as a kid. As a grown up, however, I haven't spent a lot of time brushing up on all this useless knowledge, and I don't read the odd Greek myth just for fun either. At least not anymore.
Reading this book was like revisiting old friends, but with the addition of a cool and very fresh twist, as it brings us into the mind of what has traditionally been one of the villains of the Greek mythology - namely Circe, the daughter of Helios and also the powerful witch that transformed Odysseus' men into pigs. In this story, we see everything from her perspective, and are suddenly presented with a whole new dimension.
Circe is a badass character, strong and resilient, wise and multi-faceted; an immortal who yearns to be something else, a goddess who turns her back on divinity. She's wonderfully interesting, but so are the supporting characters. Gods and mythical figures spring to life and are fleshed out in such a way that they all feel real, and even though the author definitely has her own take on the original myths, it never feels disrespectful or over-constructed. The theme is subtle and never clearly spoken, yet always present, allowing you to draw your own conclusions, and it's just brilliantly done.
The story flows seamlessly and it never loses its grip on the reader. Or, okay, there's ONE part, somewhere in the middle, where I felt it lost its momentum, but after that, it picked up again, and did so in style. I loved the third part of the book, just as much, or more, as the magnificent first (like I said, one third in the middle was so and so - nice, but a bit dragging). The language is beautiful and rich, and I've found so many quotes that have made me go "wow" that if I went over the book with a yellow marker, there wouldn't be a whole lot of white sections left (I'd never do that, though).
This, my friends, is a must-read.
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