Monday, April 29, 2019

Madeline Miller, CIRCE

I truly enjoyed every minute of this book. It's what I call a "warp/weft" novel because in the craft of weaving, the warp is in one direction, weft is in the other.

In THE ODYSSEY, Circe appears as a secondary character, present in 2-1/2 books out of 12. There, she is a sorceress who lives on an island alone and turns Odysseus's sailors into pigs as punishment when they behave badly, gobbling her food and eying her lasciviously. After convincing her to release the pigs from their spell, Odysseus remains with Circe for a while on his ten-year journey home; while she was memorable (to me, at least) she is merely one of many characters he meets along the way.

In Miller's book, Odysseus is relegated to a secondary character. This is similar in project to WIDE SARGASSO SEA, a postcolonial novel that flipped JANE EYRE sideways, putting the alleged madwoman in the attic Bertha Mason's character at the center instead of the periphery; also Peter Carey's novel JACK MAGGS, which did something similar for Magwitch from GREAT EXPECTATIONS. In telling a secondary character's story, these novels render them as more sympathetic than in the original; often there is a not-so-subtle nudge to us to consider where our sympathies should lie and how perspective and narration shape what we think we know. (Neither of those books is overly didactic, I don't meant that. But they do nudge and provoke thought, in a productive way.) Similarly,  CIRCE flips a primary narrative sideways--and Miller crafts a narrative that is evocative and innovative and a wonderful read. This novel is at once a coming-of-age story and a love story ... and I haven't met anyone yet who hasn't enjoyed it. Highly recommend.