Anyone who knows me, knows I love stories, and I adore English Literature and fairytales (in general), almost as much as I love adaptations of them. Until recently, I wasn't too bothered by other areas of mythology and literature (aka Norse or Greek mythology). However, recently I read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. While in the process, I was able to attend an event at which she was going to be interviewed at the University of East Anglia. There she talked about her passion for the Greek Mythology, and other mythology alike. This was definitely evident from her début novel. I had heard of some during my High School years, ranging from history classes to my parents dragging me to Greece and other places, but I'd never willingly dived into these tales and characters as a young adult (endlessly watching Troy to admire Orlando Bloom left aside). Before my introduction to Greek character, I'd bought a book on Norse Mythology, but mainly because it was written by Neil Gaiman.
So my journey began with Madeline Miller and her passion for these characters. I'd heard of The Song of Achilles somewhere, though I don't remember when or where exactly, and it was put on my list of novels I need/want to read (which is getting out of control). As I realised Miller was to attend UEA for an event, I decided to sit down and read it. I expected a tale I knew of death, in which Achilles looks like Brad Pitt. Subsequently, I expected it to be about Achilles. In my opinion, it is neither. Here's the synopsis:
Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their differences, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper - despite the displeasure of Achilles' mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfil his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.My initial review: This book is the definition of 'less is more'. It's a captivating story. I love the well-developed characters, what drives them, their emotions. Some things are as clear as day while not described in the book, others take some time to process. I'm really happy I finally got around to reading this book. And I am glad I already purchased Circe, because Miller's writing is pleasantly professional and intriguing.
I completely stand by my impression. While it was not the tale I remembered, nor did it hold a lot of names I recognised due to my unfamiliarity with the original source material, I was blown away by their vivid characters. While there was such cruelty, death, pain and violence, it was not hard to understand the characters and feel with them. So I didn't hesitate about purchasing Circe. Unlike Achilles, I didn't remember her from anything. All I know of her comes from Madeline Miller (I will surely be disappointed when I read Hómēros' texts and don't recognise her). I soon realised I wasn't the only one who didn't remember her. When I spoke of her, to my friends, they were often at a loss as well (or referred to Cersei Lannister) as she plays such a small part in The Odyssey. I only recently finished Circe and it wildly different from The Song of Achilles, but in my opinion just as good, if not better. Here's the synopsis:
In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child — not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power — the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves. Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.I absolutely adored this book. In a lot of ways, I prefer it over The Song of Achilles. To me it was rather clear that Miller has grown as a writer, but I understand why it is less compelling to some people. Circe is complicated, stubborn, resilient and stunning. She is by no means perfect, especially in the eyes of her family, yet this is what makes her such an engaging character.
What I love about the book is how it is relatively uneventful. It is not about the adventurous plot or intense climax (which I felt hung over me as I read TSOA), but rather about the character development of the protagonist. Her journey from Goddess to Witch (and beyond) is the focus of the book. Yet it was never boring, despite the lack of obvious excitement. I was not reading to get to a certain point (though I admit I was waiting for one particular character to appear), I was reading to understand Circe. To experience her journey.
While the gods are wicked, their cruelty did not make this a depressing read either. It is what I expected from the gods (or Greek mythology as a whole). I didn't expect empathy or kindness among them, which is what makes Circe compelling. She's relatively human for a goddess. It makes the character and the story accessible to us mortal readers.
Miller also wrote a short story named Galatea in 2013 (between the previously mentioned novels). Synopsis: In Ancient Greece, a skilled marble sculptor has been blessed by a goddess who has given his masterpiece – the most beautiful woman the town has ever seen – the gift of life. Now his wife, Galatea is expected to be obedience and humility personified, but it is not long before she learns to use her beauty as a form of manipulation. In a desperate bid by her obsessive husband to keep her under control, she is locked away under the constant supervision of doctors and nurses. But with a daughter to rescue, she is determined to break free, whatever the cost.
It's no The Song of Achilles or Circe, but it is definitely Miller, master of 'less is more'. I really enjoyed this short story. Part of me wishes it would have been longer, but then again it's pretty good as it is. I do wish she'd write more short stories like this one and create a book with them all. I think her interpretation of characters such as Achilles and Circe would make for fascinating short stories. I cannot wait for Miller's next novel. I've also finally purchased The Odyssey and aim to read it some time soon (but with me I really never know because there's a loooot I want to read as soon as possible, and it's just not possible), because I want to explore more of these novels, such as Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad (not only because it's Atwood, also because I'm curious how her interpretation of the character might differ from that of Miller).