Why I Didn’t Like Circe by Madeline Miller

CirceFiction – Fantasy
Released April 10, 2018
394 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Book of the Month (Publisher: Lee Boudreaux Books)

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Headline

Though I could tell it was well-done, I didn’t like Circe. I felt like I slogged through it and thought I needed to have better base knowledge or at least more interest in Greek mythology to appreciate it.

Plot Summary

When Circe, the under-rated daughter of the god Helios, begins interacting with mortals and discovers she has a power, her father banishes her to a deserted island as part of an agreement with Zeus.

Why I Read It

I decided to ignore my lack of interest in Greek mythology and read Circe anyway because of the multitude of rave reviews, including some from trusted recommendation sources (Gilmore Guide, Novel VisitsBook of the Month, author Ann Patchett).

Major Themes

Greek mythology, feminism, motherhood, adventure

What I Liked

  • Despite this book not being for me at all, I recognize that it was extremely well-done. I’m actually stressing out over my rating because of this. I didn’t like Circe at all, but I also feel like it doesn’t deserve a 1 star rating because I could see how well-done it was.
  • There were a few parts where I was riveted by the adventure and I couldn’t stop turning the pages (both parts had to do with The Straits).
  • Right when I finished Circe, I went away for a night with some girlfriends I grew up with. I arrived to find two of them reading and loving Circe. We then had a pretty in-depth discussion about the messages it conveys and I liked those messages. I also liked that it sparked this type of discussion at a girls’ weekend!

What I Didn’t Like

  • Circe reminded me of how I felt about A Gentleman in Moscow (my review). I could see it was well-done, but I felt like I was slogging my way through it. I couldn’t concentrate, the story was going in one ear and out the other, I felt like I was fighting with the language, it felt like a school assignment, and I felt like I was viewing the action from 50,000 feet in the air through a layer of clouds..I did not feel present in Circe’s world (except for those two periods in The Straits).
  • The language is formal and of the time of the Greek gods. I had no idea what she was talking about in some passages, like this one:

His voice rolled like a bard’s: Achilles, prince of Phthia, swiftest of all the Greeks, best of the Achaian warriors at Troy. Beautiful, brilliant, born from the dread nereid Thetis, graceful and deadly as the sea itself. The Trojans had fallen before him like grass before the scythe, and the mighty Prince Hector himself perished at his ash- spear’s end.

  • Particularly in the beginning, there are way too many characters and I couldn’t keep track of them. It felt like Miller included every minor god in Greek mythology in this book in some way, no matter how tangential. There was a glossary of characters at the back of the book, but I didn’t know it was there until I was finished…that should absolutely have been at the front of the book!
  • Circe is the kind of book that I’ve found it almost impossible to read these days. I fit reading into my life in small snippets throughout the day amid taking care of my young children. Often while I’m reading, my children are around me talking, interrupting, participating in sports practices, etc. And, I rarely have larger chunks of time to really focus on getting immersed in a book. So, I need books that I can easily get immersed in. A part of me felt like my brain just couldn’t handle Circe. But, I also think a great book shouldn’t feel like hard work…
  • I’d heard you don’t have to know much about or even be super interested in Greek mythology to love Circe. I totally disagree. I think you need somewhat of a foundation in Greek mythology to make heads or tails of this or the time and inclination to do some outside research as you go (i.e. looking up all these tangential gods and learning their stories).
  • You may ask why I finished Circe if I disliked it so much…the answer is I wanted to review it. There are very few contrarian reviews out there about this book and I thought the discussion needed an opposing viewpoint. That being said, this reading experience sure did remind me why I’m usually a big DNF’er of books that aren’t working for me.

A Defining Quote

I thought once that gods are the opposite of death, but I see now they are more dead than anything, for they are unchanging, and can hold nothing in their hands.

Good for People Who Like…

Greek mythology, intricate books, more formal writing

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39 Comments

  1. Wendy wrote:

    I think you summed up my feelings about books like this when you said it felt like it was a school assignment. Sometimes we read books because we feel like we ‘have to’. I just don’t want to do that anymore! Thank you for your honest review. It’s ok to recognize a book that’s well written but we didn’t enjoy.

    Posted 5.22.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Thanks for making me feel better!

      Posted 5.31.18 Reply
      • Melanie wrote:

        My son – who is not a great student or reader – is assigned this book to read in his 10th grade English class. I try to read what my kids do so we can discuss. I know this book is supposed to be good, and 5 chapters on I find myself wanting to ask his teachers what she is thinking…. ugh. We will slog though it (school assignment is accurate) but not enjoyable.

        Posted 10.27.19 Reply
  2. Victoria wrote:

    I’m so relieved to not be the only one! Recently rekindling my love of reading, I picked up this book based on rave reviews. I was sure I’d love it, and kept telling myself all the way through it that I loved it. Only…when I was done with it I just felt…meh…and somehow disappointed that I wasn’t thrilled with it like everyone else. It was my first Greek mythology book, and fortunately I accidentally noticed the list of characters in the back before reading. I also had to do a bit of Googling (like Olympians vs Titans) just to follow the story line.

    Posted 5.22.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Well I’m so glad I’m not the only one! I’m sorry this put a speedbump in your reading rekindling, but hopefully you’ve come back from it. PS – I do not like to have to Google to understand my book!

      Posted 5.31.18 Reply
  3. As you know, I disagree, but I do see some of your points. The glossary of characters definitely should have been in the front. When I read Song of Achilles (also loved) I knew to turn to the back for the glossary and that helped. I see your point about some of the language being “formal”, but I think that was the exception and not the rule for Miller’s writing. As I was reading, I didn’t think much of a knowledge of Greek mythology mattered, but I may have been wrong there. I didn’t think I really had that background, but as I was reading I realized that even though it was many, many years ago I did learn a lot from the college course I took on The Iliad and The Odyssey. It gave me more background than I could have imagined, especially for Circe.

    Great review, Sarah, with lots to think about!

    Posted 5.22.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Oh yeah – sounds like you had much more mythology background! I read The Iliad and The Odyssey IN LATIN in high school and retain next to nothing about the stories. Just struggled so hard to translate each word that the broader plot totally went over my head – haha!

      Posted 5.31.18 Reply
      • Robert E. Lerner wrote:

        Dear Sarah,
        The Iliad and the Odyssey were written IN GREEK so you couldn’t have read them IN LATIN in high school. (Latin translations of Homer are pointless.) And even if these works were translated into English they never would have been assigned in entirety in high school. So you are making things up, just to be sassy. B.t.w., how’s your LATIN now?

        Posted 10.21.19 Reply
        • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

          I’m aware those were written in Greek, but they have also been translated into Latin (https://www.lib.umich.edu/online-exhibits/exhibits/show/translating-homer–from-papyri/the-latin-homer). We spent an entire school year in Honors Latin (or maybe it was AP…can’t remember…it’s been awhile since I was in high school) translating those poems. It’s literally all we did for a year. Our teacher also specialized in Greek. And, you could be right, maybe it wasn’t the entirety of both books. It also could have been spread out over 2 years – one in Honors Latin and one in AP. But I don’t remember exactly since, again, it’s been 20+ yrs since I was in high and these details are not pieces of information that are especially important to me to remember 20+ years later. You know who also doesn’t know for sure? You! Point being, I spent an outrageous amount of time with those books.

          My Latin is non-existent now. I hated that class then and, not surprisingly, don’t use it in my daily life now. I took Latin because I’m much better at reading / writing a language than I am at seeing / hearing it, so French and Spanish were hard for me. We had a language requirement in high school, so I had to choose something. Judging by the tone of your comment, you’re probably delighted to hear this.

          Posted 10.21.19 Reply
  4. RK wrote:

    Thank you for posting this view! I also thought this was kind of a slog.

    Posted 5.22.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Thanks for making me feel less alone 🙂 Haha!

      Posted 5.31.18 Reply
  5. Madeline wrote:

    Thank you for this review! I couldn’t even get through the library sample. I found the writing flowery and Greek mythology has never hooked me (and yet another reason why I don’t do the Ancient Art tours as a docent at my museum). The sections you quote reinforced for me that I made the right decision not to try this one.

    I’m one that beats the drum for more negative reviews, so thank you for finishing the book and doing a thoughtful review.

    Posted 5.22.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Haha – yes!! And you’re welcome for the negative reviews – this one was tough. I desperately wanted to DNF it, but really thought I should write a review. It’s rare that I make that choice!

      Posted 5.31.18 Reply
  6. Lauren wrote:

    I feel you about giving a low rating to a work you feel is well done despite your issues with it. But that’s what helpful reviews do. Being so precise about what didn’t work, despite the star rating, is what really makes a review. If you’d just given it one-star, different story. I take your comments to heart, but I’m going to give Circe a try one of these days due to my love for Achilles (the book, not the god. Though nothing against the god, I’m sure he was just fine. Other than that one weakness, I guess).

    Posted 5.22.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I’m sure you’ll feel differently if you loved Achilles!

      Posted 5.31.18 Reply
  7. I’ve decided to skip it because I’m not interested in mythology either.

    Posted 5.22.18 Reply
  8. Allison wrote:

    Okay, I was started to be convinced that I didn’t need to be into mythology to like this, but now I’m having doubts. I’ll still give it a try, but maybe it’s a library checkout rather than a must-buy.

    Posted 5.24.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I got convinced of that too, but I totally think you need some base. I’d def do a library checkout 🙂

      Posted 5.31.18 Reply
  9. Tara wrote:

    I’m so glad you saved me from this one; I keep hearing everyone rave about it, but I just don’t think it’s for me.

    Posted 5.24.18 Reply
  10. Jan wrote:

    Sarah, you know I loved this one, despite not even remembering much of anything about Greek mythology and having no great love for it. Go figure. I do like how you gave a detailed explanation of what didn’t work for you. I agree that the character list should have been put in the front of the book not the back. I was tipped off by a friend but to be honest I didn’t use it much. I just didn’t get bogged down by the details and loved it for the messages and theme – the female power, Circe the underdog. Sorry this didn’t work for you but I always appreciate a well-thought out dissenting view!

    Posted 5.25.18 Reply
  11. Sorry to hear this didn’t work for you! I’m a firm believer in reviews being subjective and if this felt like a slog for you, I think it deserves the low rating. I’ve had books like this too though, where I’ve not enjoyed them but have thought that they were objectively well done.

    Posted 5.26.18 Reply
  12. I have to agree … and disagree 🙂 I read it and overall liked it – but I see your point – there were sections where I was like – enough already! It’s hard about reading for someone that lives for thousands of years.

    Posted 5.27.18 Reply
  13. I really enjoyed it, but I liked your review. I can see how it would be a slog for a reader who isn’t able to get into it.

    Posted 5.29.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Thanks 🙂

      Posted 5.31.18 Reply
  14. Carol Ellis wrote:

    From the very start I felt like I had dropped in on an episode of “Housewives of Greek mythology”. For certain there were moments in the story that were compelling, but in my opinion, otherwise a bore. But let me preface this by saying that I went into this read with absolutely no knowledge of Greek mythology, other than a vague recollection of books titled “The Odyssey” and “The Iliad”, so I was lost from the get-go. Early on I decided not to let the names bog me down, so I plowed through hoping that the storyline would captivate me enough to continue. It did, but I still can’t remember most of the names of the Gods, Goddesses, Mortals, Monsters, etc. I found that even the categories of names at the end of the story didn’t help. In fact, had I read that list before embarking on this book, I might not have pursued reading. I personally don’t care for having too many characters, regardless of the book, and I felt that too many unnecessary “people” were thrown in, who didn’t impact the story, as a testament to the author’s vast knowledge.
    Having said all this, I do recommend this book. It didn’t encourage me to go on and read the Greek classics, but I was curious enough to pick up Circe each time from where I left off and see how it ended. I have opinions about that as well, but enough of that.

    Posted 9.24.18 Reply
  15. Eli M wrote:

    It’s amazing how different people have such different reactions. There are also books I just don’t appreciate (as much as I would have liked I could not make it through Lincoln on the Bardo). Like you, I have very little to no exposure to mythology. I listened to Circe on audible (the narrator is fantastic) and I flew through it! I loved everything about Circe and would even it’s my all time favorite book. I’ll be reading Son of Aquiles very soon.

    Posted 12.23.18 Reply
  16. denise wrote:

    I’m surprised that you attempted to review this book since you did not have the context for it. Basically, your review says that you didn’t like it because it was too hard. Perhaps you should stick to reviewing books that you understand so that you can make a worthwhile critique that actually says something interesting about the story.

    Posted 3.10.19 Reply
  17. Colette wrote:

    I am reading it now for a book club I recently joined. I feel like I am forcing myself to get through it. It is too long and drawn out. I agree also as a busy mom I need something that draws me in immediately.

    Posted 4.20.19 Reply
  18. Sara wrote:

    Hi there,
    I stumbled across your review of Circe. I’m an Italian actress and read this book as part of the research on this character which I play shortly; I’m also writing my own monologue from Circe’s point of view. I devoured the novel in under three days! (But then, it’s probably deadlines coming at me!) I actually found it very useful and compelling, especially from the point of view of the character’s development and inner world. I actually drew most of my monologue from elaborations and notes I wrote while reading BUT: I understand your opinion. I have studied Ancient Greek and Greek mythology for half of my life (I’m 25), and for me, it was like coming home to a world I already knew since middle school. Madeline Miller has done classical studies; her research and knowledge on the mythology and everything is extremely accurate, but it probably wasn’t clear enough for a “normal” reading audience. I only wrote this to say that in fact you’re right: in order to read this book and thoroughly enjoy it, a few years’ study of Greek mythology are useful – if not required.
    Cheers! X

    Posted 4.22.19 Reply
  19. Barbara Belk wrote:

    This was the monthly book club choice. Mythology has never been of interest to me. I found it very difficult to find the time to sit through the book. I honestly tried to get into it but my mind kept thinking about getting the laundry done.
    I am sure that I will be the oddball of the group when I give my opinion.

    Posted 7.11.19 Reply
  20. Paige wrote:

    agree to disagree! This book is fantastically written, but certainly not a simple book too immerse yourself in. Your review was well-done, though. 🙂

    Posted 12.17.19 Reply
  21. Lindsay wrote:

    Did you read Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles? I own a copy of that one, but I’m wondering if it’s much of the same and I need to have a better grasp of Greek mythology to enjoy it.

    Posted 12.31.19 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I didn’t and probably won’t go back to it now since I didn’t love Circe.

      Posted 1.5.20 Reply
  22. Ragul wrote:

    Couldn’t agree more. I am exactly slogging through the book CIRCE now. Despite so much positive reviews I was wondering why I find it so heavy. You poured down the exact words.

    – We need Greek mythology knowledge to understand CIRCE. Period.
    – We need a separate paper/pen to keep track of the characters. God. So many!
    – I gotta jump between book and dictionary once in a while to find out the meaning of a never-heard-it-before word. Was it just me?

    Posted 9.1.20 Reply

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