Top Shelf: ‘Circe’ by Madeline Miller

Every month, we choose a new book to really get behind and display on our metaphorical Top Shelf. Our hope is that you’ll read this title and encourage others to do the same, creating a sort of ripple effect. Join us on our mission to build a community bound by books!


The Odyssey — probably a book everyone was forced to read in ninth grade, remembered fondly as a journey that took ten years too long. Homer’s epic poem focused on the adventures of the heroic Odysseus, and his seemingly never-ending quest to return home. In one of his many detours, he encounters a beautiful witch named Circe. Fast forward to 2018, and Circe is basically a punchline for any and all pig-related jokes. Madeline Miller’s Circe, a spiritual sequel to The Song of Achilles, emerges in our bookstore to remind readers just who the infamous sorceress truly is.

Miller is the queen of taking sidelined characters and bringing them to the forefront. The Song of Achilles, Miller’s 2011 retelling of The Iliad, surprised all by depicting the Trojan War not through the eyes of Achilles, but through those of his lover. In Circe, Miller decides against treading back over the story of Odysseus, and starts anew with Circe. The book begins with Circe’s life before she became a witch, back when she was only the forgotten daughter of the god of the sun. Shunned by her family, Circe becomes increasingly intrigued by the power of witchcraft. However, Circe’s newfound confidence only further isolates her from those around her, resulting in her banishment to Aeaea. Once on her island, Circe encounters some of Greek mythology’s fan favorites: Icarus, the Minotaur, Apollo, and, of course, Odysseus. Throughout Circe’s encounters with heroes and gods, she begins to weigh the value of mortality, and the humans who slip through her ageless fingers.

Circe is a book that could have easily been overshadowed by the popularity of The Song of Achilles, but it instead stands on its own as another testament to Miller’s breathtaking lyricism. The writing is lush and intimate, once again inviting the reader into a magic different, yet just as special, as Circe’s: a magic that is unleashed whenever Miller picks up a pen. Miller’s ambitiously large ensemble somehow seems perfectly balanced, and the attention to detail creates a special love for each character, no matter how fleeting their story may be. Telemachus feels just as big as Athena, and the story of Glaucus is just as captivating as Jason’s.

Circe will obviously appeal to any Greek mythology nut, as it encapsulates the rich world of legend on a larger scale than The Song of Achilles. But, despite its fantastic elements, Circe is a human story. It speaks to a woman’s evolution from a creature dependent on acceptance and love, to one willing to give up everything for freedom. Miller zeroed in on the forgotten sorceress, and proved that women have a place in our stories as more than the pitstop used to further a man’s narrative.

— Sara L., Bookseller 


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