On Not Wanting to Read Madeline Miller’s “Circe”

Last summer I became aware that Madeline Miller’s new novel, Circe, a retelling of the Circe myth from the Odyssey, would be published this month.   Netgalley, a site where reviewers and bloggers can request e-galleys, posted a picture of the beautiful cover, along with the tantalizing news that the book was not yet available for request.

It’s just as well that it was not available, since I was behind on Netgalley books.  (The last one I read was Isabelle Allende’s In the Midst of Winter in October, and it may be October 2027 before I read the others.)

Last week I almost bought Circe, carried away by the excitement of reviews.  Then I remembered something.  I did not finish Madeline Miller’s first novel, The Song of Achilles.

I wrote in 2012:

Madeline Miller won the Orange Prize for her first novel, The Song of Achilles, a retelling of the story of Achilles and Patroclus.  She is a classicist, a teacher and tutor of Latin, Greek, and Shakespeare to high school students.

So of course I like her, because I’ve never met a Latin teacher I didn’t like.

I haven’t read The Song of Achilles, but it’s on my Nook.

My guess is you’d be less critical of the book if your background is not in classics, but I gave up on page 130.  I was put off by the clichés (“I watched him hang on the other man’s words”) and hackneyed pseudo-poetic dialogue (“Your honor could be darkened by it.”  “It’s darkened.”)

Nonetheless, I am dying to read Circe.  Will Miller’s second novel be the charm? And yet I’m saying NO to myself.  I have a couple of retellings of the Odyssey to read first:  Zachary Mason’s The Last Books of the Odyssey and Patrick Dillon’s Ithaka.

Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt from Margaret Atwood’s Circe Mud/Poems.

I made no choice
I decided nothing

One day you simply appeared in your stupid boat,
your killer's hands, your disjointed body, jagged
    as a shipwreck,
skinny-ribbed, blue-eyed, scorched, thirsty, the usual,
pretending to be-what? a survivor?

Those who say they want nothing
want everything.
It was not this greed
that offended me, it was the lies.

Nevertheless I gave you
the food you demanded for the journey
you said you planned; but you planned no journey
and we both knew it.
You've forgotten that,
you made the right decision.
You're having a good time here,
the trees bend in the wind, you eat, you rest,
you think of nothing,
your mind, you say,
is like your hands, vacant:

vacant is not innocent.

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