Madeline Miller's remarkable way of retelling Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey was definitely bound to be a recipe for success. I loved every ingredient (element) in these books. Love, betrayal, enchantment, adventure, jealousy, complex relationships, and a dash of vengeance. This isn't your four-ingredient recipe that you can find at your local grocery store. No, no this is a "magnifique" three-star deal. Song of Achilles alone took Miller ten years to write and received the Orange Prize for fiction, which is the United Kingdom's most prestigious literary prize. After reading this enchanting tale, I had to read her second novel, Circe.
The Song of Achilles is from the perspective of Patroclus. The book begins with Patroclus being exiled for killing a boy. He is then sent to Phthia to be fostered by its king, Peleus. This is where he meets Achilles, the perfect, handsome, and fierce demi-god. The story continues throughout their teenage years and into the war with the Trojans. When Patroclus poses as Achilles to save the demi-god's life, he tragically loses his own--in a gruesome, horrid, and agonizing painful death. Losing Patroclus plunges Achilles into a deep depression, and the soldiers believe he has lost his mind. As the Fates said, the war will be won by the death of Achilles.
“And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone.”
-Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles
Circe is only a minor character in Homer's The Odyssey, so creating an entire novel about the sea goddess or nymph poses a challenge. The greatest challenge for Miller may have been to keep the storyline coherent enough for her readers. The novel spans hundreds of years because Circe is immortal.
Circe was born more human-like than god-like. She isn't vicious enough to be a goddess. She was an outcast and every Titan and Olympian made it quite clear to her. She did, however, possess a valuable power: witchcraft. When Circe turned the most beautiful sea goddess, Scylla, into a man-eating beast and the man she loved into a god, she was banished to the deserted island of Aiaia. Throughout her life, she discovered relationships, love, and motherhood.
Both The Song of Achilles and Circe contain themes of abuse, relationships, love, sacrifice, and dealing with one's emotions. Achilles and Circe had to fend for themselves and learn through hardships. I have to admit that as I was reading I fell in love with these characters and found myself siding with them, even though I didn't agree with some of their actions. Very detailed and gripping!
"He was quiet a long time. 'You are wise,' he said. 'If it is so,' I said, 'it is only because I have been fool enough for a hundred lifetimes.'"
-Madeline Miller, Circe