‘Circe’ defies typical #BookTok expectations

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Clara Martinez

“All the Bright Places,” the third book included on the #BookTok Bookshelf, was written by Jennifer Niven in 2015. Exploring a theme of death, the novel commences with protagonists Violet and Finch standing on the ledge of a high school bell tower, unsure of why the other has the same desire to end their life.

Clara Martinez, News Editor: Print

Welcome back to the second installment of #BookTok Bookshelf. After shamelessly name-dropping “The Song of Achilles” in my previous review, I was determined to find out if Madeline Miller is just another author placed in the one-hit-wonder category. Thus, today brings a review of “Circe,” published by Miller eight years after publishing her first New York Times Best Seller.

In Miller’s first novel, she chronicles the friendship between Trojan War hero Achilles and wartime companion Patroclus as a tale of romantic lovers. After turning the final page of “The Song of Achilles” and bawling my eyes out – as one does – I made a quick Google search of the author in the hope of discovering another favorite.  

Akin to “The Song of Achilles,” “Circe” is a historical fiction novel unearthing and adapting multiple ancient myths from the Greek Historic Age. Born into the reputable family of the Sun god Titan Helios and ocean nymph Perse, the immortal community expects Circe to inherit the power of her parents. Despite her family’s longing for greatness, Circe develops neither the intensity nor the beauty of Helios and Perse. Hence, they outcast her to the mortal world, where she divulges her previously hidden capabilities: the unique gift of witchcraft. 

Cover used with permission from Little, Brown and Company

Threatened by her power to shapeshift enemies and bewitch even the immortal, god of the sky Zeus banishes Circe to a remote island. Circe utilizes these hours of isolation to further develop her innate talent, exploiting various animals on the island and lost voyagers that wash up onshore.

From the genius craftsman Daedalus to his son Icarus to Greek hero Odysseus, the novel incorporates Circe’s interactions with the most notable figures in Greek mythology. Even so, many of her shipwrecked visitors seek more than simply shelter. She then faces an entirely new kind of hardship as a secluded woman.

For a story that encapsulates numerous themes – family struggles, misogyny and  god-human romance – one might think this book would have just a smidge of relatability. 

However, this book is an enlightening journey into the mind of someone who truly does not understand the complexities of human connection. As a consequence of being ostracized by those closest to her, Circe’s relationships emphasize how she learns to rely on others, as opposed to flowery romance and skipping through fields.

As the book progresses, Circe begins to yearn for an eternity beyond the waters of her island. She must come to terms with where she feels she belongs, whether it be among the gods with her family or the mortals with whom she falls in love.

Yet, I find myself unable to connect with Circe and feel any empathy for her hardships. Nearly every conflict she winds up dealing with results from either an ignorant decision or her painfully stubborn personality.

This book is an enlightening journey into the mind of someone who truly does not understand the complexities of human connection.”

This is not to say, however, that a morally grey protagonist automatically renders a frustrating book. Although I did not find myself rooting for Circe, her negative characteristics seemed intentional as Miller pursued this skillful approach to writing about the immortal. 

I began reading this book thinking that it would reflect the lyrical, amorous narrative of “The Song of Achilles.” Alas, this was not the case, and I hope you treat this as a warning: do not set yourself up for the disappointment faced when reading the first chapter and realizing “Circe” does not replicate the beautiful, emotional trainwreck of “The Song of Achilles.”

While this book is undoubtedly popular among the TikTok audience – garnering over 50 million views under “#Circe” – it does not share many of the familiar qualities usually found on #BookTok. For instance, this is certainly not a story of a hero you will immediately fall in love with while they fall in love with a supernatural heartthrob. Thus, for readers who rely solely on their “For You Page” for reading recommendations, this book is a refreshing novelty.

Read more #BookTok Reviews here:

Clara Martinez