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GROUP READS > July FICTION selection CIRCE

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message 1: by El (last edited Jul 02, 2018 05:06AM) (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
I can't believe it's July already, and the year is half over! ETA: I hope everyone is staying cool out there - at least most of the States is ridiculously hot and gross right now. Stay hydrated!

Our July fiction selection will be Madeline Miller's 2018 novel, Circe! I am looking forward to this one, even if I'm late getting to it (as seems to be the case a lot lately).

I haven't read all of this article from The Guardian about the book, but feel free to check it out.

I loved the Odyssey when I read it in high school, so I'm excited to read more about Circe.

Has anyone already read this one? Any initial thoughts? Any Greek-mythology fans who have strong feelings either way about this book?


message 2: by Honore (new)

Honore | 78 comments !!! I had no exposer to Greek mythology growing up, but last year I started reading The Olympians comic series by George O'Connor and I was hooked! I had been intimidated about reading about all these gods, in my mind it felt like tackling Shakespeare, something that requires studying to comprehend. The comics aloud me to dip my toe into the stories. Circe is an awesome work to really focus in on one God (maybe, I don't fully know what she is yet). I'm really enjoying this book so far!


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Yeah! I just finished an ARC of The Drama Teacher which was excellent (complex female main character and a page turning story) and was wondering what to read next... Okay loading this one up.

I have watched shows based on Odyssey/Illiad and tried to read it but gave up. My kid is steeped in Greek/Roman mythology so I just usually ask her if I have a question.


message 4: by Anita (new)

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) I did read this recently and I thought it was good. I don't think it will matter if you're knowledgeable in Greek mythology or not, but you will smile a bit here and there at the interactions Circe has with certain people if you do know them. There are a lot of interesting side tangents to think about if you catch them, but I don't think it will take away from this story of you don't. Imo.

My general non-spoilery comment would be to recognize that Circe is an immortal and so the pacing of the story (quite artistically imo) reflects that by being slow at times and quick at others. The reviews I've read are varied and it seems to be a book that could go either way for the reader.

I also read recently that there is a new translation of the Iliad/Odyssey that is supposed to be a very good translation, perhaps keeping more true to the stories than the politics of the men who have translated them in the past. I have it on my shelf to read.


message 5: by Anita (new)

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) The book I mentioned is titled "The Iliad: A New Translation" by Caroline Alexander.

Which reminds me: Circe is about Circe, not Odysseus. I saw in some reviews that this upset/annoyed some people... so I thought maybe it deserved a quick mention so no one in the group went in with that preconception.


message 6: by El (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
Anita wrote: "I also read recently that there is a new translation of the Iliad/Odyssey that is supposed to be a very good translation, perhaps keeping more true to the stories than the politics of the men who have translated them in the past. I have it on my shelf to read."

Oh, is that The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson (which came out last fall)? I really want to get to that one, but if there's another new translation out that I should look into, please let me know!


message 7: by El (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
Oh, we sort of simul-posted, Anita, but I'm leaving mine as-is because I wanted to give a shout out to Wilson anyway. I will check out the Alexander translation too. Thanks!

And also thanks for pointing out that this is about Circe, not Odysseus. That's a good reminder. (Surprised people have been upset about that though!)


message 8: by Anita (new)

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) Lol yes we did. I added yours to my shelf too, Thanks!


message 9: by Lucinda (new)

Lucinda (dewluca) I forgot to request this one from the library in advance, so now have to wait. Likely a couple of weeks


message 10: by El (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
Lucinda wrote: "I forgot to request this one from the library in advance, so now have to wait. Likely a couple of weeks"

Yeah, my request just went in today too. Par for the course in my case. :) I look forward to seeing the other comments on the book until I can get to it myself. You and I might be starting around the same time.


message 11: by Stacha (new)

Stacha | 2 comments I actually finished Circe a couple of days ago (and then bought Song of Achilles after). I enjoyed it, though not to the same extent as some others in my circle. Like others have said you don't really need a working knowledge of Greek mythology to follow along. Miller introduces gods and their characteristics and gives you enough details about the other characters she interacts with that you don't feel like you're missing any context.

Without giving up any details, I did really enjoy the ending. Miller definitely has a great style.


message 12: by El (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
I wound up getting this book as a belated birthday gift from my partner, so I was able to start sooner than expected! Unfortunately, I haven't made much ground with it yet. I'm finding it readable when I do have time to sit with it, but the time is usually interrupted so I'm not connecting quite as well as I had hoped yet.


message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

I am loving this book!


message 14: by Honore (new)

Honore | 78 comments I found it hilarious when the various gods started sending their bad behaving nymphs to Circes island as punishment. It seemed like such an annoying punishment for her to have to endure. Kind of like being forced to let your annoying younger sibling hang out with you at the mall.


message 15: by El (last edited Jul 16, 2018 10:13AM) (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
How are we doing with this read? I'm over halfway but not quite finished. I'm enjoying it though it took me a little bit to get into the story for some reason. I loved Circe in the Odyssey so seeing her story expanded has been fantastic. I even went back last night and re-read the Circe bit in the Odyssey for context. (Not required, just a nerdy thing I like to do.)


Honore wrote: "Kind of like being forced to let your annoying younger sibling hang out with you at the mall."

Hah, as the annoying younger sibling, this made me chuckle!


message 16: by Shomeret (new)

Shomeret | 33 comments I am not reading this book due to a negative review from someone I trust. My question to those who are reading it, is whether you consider it a feminist book and if so how is it feminist? How do you feel about the way Circe is portrayed?


message 17: by El (last edited Jul 16, 2018 07:27PM) (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
Shomeret wrote: "I am not reading this book due to a negative review from someone I trust. My question to those who are reading it, is whether you consider it a feminist book and if so how is it feminist? How do yo..."

Well, I'm intrigued by the negative review! I'm going to hold off on commenting on that until I finish the book. I have lots of thoughts so far. My first thought is that at least Circe is getting a voice since we only had Odysseus's perspective in the Odyssey, and I think of him as an unreliable narrator anyway. I think a lot can be said for the books that tell the story from an otherwise silent woman's voice. That doesn't necessarily make something inherently feminist, however. I want to see how things wrap up before going more into your question. Thanks for positing it.


message 18: by Honore (new)

Honore | 78 comments Shomeret wrote: "I am not reading this book due to a negative review from someone I trust. My question to those who are reading it, is whether you consider it a feminist book and if so how is it feminist? How do yo..."

So, I really enjoyed this book as a whole. I found the story of Circes relationships with her parents, siblings, Hemes, and Odysseus to be interesting. However, the books ends with another romantic relationship and I just didin't care about them.
A good amount of plot time is spent with Circe being mistreated by men or with her taking care of men. I found myself pitying her multiple times. She has a sad upbringing, the people in power are jerks to her, her son doesn't seem to care about her. But she still does build her own life and is true to herself.
I think this book is feminist because we get to read the story of a strong goddess that is unattractive, has a shrill voice, and is not loved by those around her. Plus points for what happens to the one rapist character in the book.


message 19: by Anita (new)

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) I wouldn't consider this a feminist book. In fact, there are very few fictions that I would ever try to call feminist. They may have any number of feminist themes, but those things alone don't make a work feminist imo. I would call Circe a character study. And a really great one because it explores (in depth) the multiple interactions and relationships that shaped a character who already has a literary story.

Miller took a witch/enchantress or seductress/beguiler, whatever you'd like to call her and asked "but why is she sitting there on that island luring men and turning them into pigs?" and answered it in a way other than "because she's a seductress/beguiler/witch/woman and what else would she do other than be one more obstacle for a male hero?" And also in a way I find realistic to the related literature.

In fact, this is probably where Miller shines. She can be frustratingly honest when representing these characters' personalities. The fact that I hate their choices is completely over ruled by the fact that these are the choices that these characters would make.

But still, I wouldn't call it feminist. Someone looking for a feminist representation of Circe flexing with a bandana on would probably be disappointed.


message 20: by Honore (new)

Honore | 78 comments Wait,

"but why is she sitting there on that island luring men and turning them into pigs?"

Circe didin't lure men, not once in this book. She called a few Titans and Gods through their telepathic connection. Those men that came to the island did so looking for stuff to steal, food to eat, and women to rape. Or they came because they were in rough shape and basically just washing to shore.

Are you saying lured base off of her character from another book you read? I definitely never got that sense in this story. I mean, she totally cast a spell so that the plunderers would see the island as a dangerous rocky coast and nothing else.

I just never got the whole siren call plot device feel from this story.


message 21: by Anita (new)

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) Honore wrote: "Wait,

"but why is she sitting there on that island luring men and turning them into pigs?"

Circe didin't lure men, not once in this book. She called a few Titans and Gods through their telepath..."


Sorry, the more I read my answers, the more confusing they sounded. So I dragged out my laptop just to redo.

I was referring to the Circe character as depicted in previous literature with that question. I imagine Miller reading the Odyssey and wondering at the character of Circe; Why she was on Aiaia and how she ended up there. What motivated her to lure the sailors or shipwrecked into her home with food and wine only to turn them into pigs - and in that aspect deciding that she would write Circe's story and give her a better reason than "because she's a witch and that's what they do."

Also, my opinion that this isn't a feminist book doesn't mean that it isn't. I just have a hard time labeling whole works of fiction as feminist because I think that feminism includes so many different themes. That doesn't mean that this book doesn't include feminist themes or couldn't be read with a feminist lens. The fact that she wrote Circe a backstory that isn't "because she's a witch (with a negative connotation)- i.e.- obstacle to every male hero." in itself could be considered feminist.


message 22: by El (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
I am interested in your perspective on whether or not fiction can be feminist or not, Anita, but I'll have to think on that a bit more.

In terms of Circe, what I ultimately found being an issue is that while Circe is finally given a voice, and a better story than the one Homer gave us in the Odyssey (as in, she is a real flesh-and-blood character and not just an object), all the other female characters are just as malevolent as Greek mythology has always shown them to be. So what makes Miller different? That she took one of the most misunderstood female characters from the Odyssey and made her sympathetic? Is that really different if there is not a single other sympathetic female character with realistic motives? They continued to be nasty women with ulterior motives, which is how so much literature has always portrayed women. I would have liked to see all of that be different in Circe.

I still gave this four stars. I feel it's more of a three-star read, but because it is so readable and, I felt, interesting, I could give it an extra star. I have an interest in Greek mythology and history as a layperson, so I was especially interested to see how a woman would write such a misunderstood or mis-portrayed female character.


message 23: by Anita (new)

Anita (anitafajitapitareada) That's a great point, El. I wish I had read it with a more critical eye towards the other female characters but all I can recall is, as you said, they were just as malicious as they would have been in the original works.

I also wish Miller had explored and developed relationships between Circe and the nymphs. Sending them to the background feels true to the nature of these myths, but at the same time seems like lopping off a pivotal part of Circe's domain. While they're background characters to the men who passed through, they would have been more permanent and impactful from Circe's perspective, I would think.


message 24: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Shomeret wrote: "I am not reading this book due to a negative review from someone I trust. My question to those who are reading it, is whether you consider it a feminist book and if so how is it feminist? How do yo..."

I have finished the book and I asked myself the same question while reading it. I determined,however, it is feminist in the sense that it shows the struggle that women have gone through/go through. Often throughout the book Circe is treated as a child, expected to use her sexuality to advance herself, seen a lesser by mortal men around her because of her gender (not even her divinity could protect her), and seen as lesser for not having a child.
I wasn't much of a fan of the style of writing, but it was a story that caught my attention and held it (finished this book in about 3 days). I often expected Circe to gain her strength many times sooner than she did in the book, but nonetheless I fell in love with her spirit. Despite all that she endured, despite all that she had seen, she persisted. She learned from her experiences, but did not accept the outcomes. It may have taken centuries in the story, but she never stopped trying to find a solution to her problems. I guess To me, this is feminist literature because it shows the struggle of women and also the strength of women.

It is true that other women are portrayed as malevolent, but only the women that are gods. (that I remember) Penelope is a human woman, and is portrayed as witty and strong. An EQUAL to Odysseus.

I agree that this is a 4 star read, but only because of the readability. It is a 3 star book, but that doesn't mean you won't be entertained, enlightened, and even a little inspired after reading it.


message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

Just finished reading the comments and great stuff!

1) I really like Miller's writing style. I thought she brought the whole story to life with her descriptions and characterizations.

2) I agree that it was a case study of Circe and bringing her to life and expounding on her story which to my knowledge hadn't been done before.

3) I thought raising the question between feminist themes and feminist fiction was a great one and I'm still pondering it! I can definitely find feminist themes in books I'm reading (mainly because I chose books that lean that way). The idea of feminist fiction is interesting because it would take a re-examining/re-shaping of a world. I guess like a utopia since it doesn't currently exist? heh This question will be in the back of my mind when I read more fiction books in the future!

4) One thing I bring to bear when reading is the background from The Creation of Patriarchy by Lerner, Eve to Dawn by French, and Suppressed Histories work by Dashu. They do try, as far as we can, to examine what came before patriarchy.

From what I can gather through reading their work is it was an androgynous god that then was split into god/goddess as consorts, then the god supplanted the female goddess, oftentimes the goddess was then demonized.

When I look at Greek and Roman mythology, especially the females, I try and think of how this could have been passed down as a way to demonize the goddess aka put women in their place as prescribed by men.

I feel Circe fit this in that she and the other goddesses were dealing with their position as goddesses, what they are allowed to do and what power they can hope to gain under the control of gods.

I liked the discussion around the nymph, Scylla, that Circe changed to a 'monster' about what she had become and was capable of doing. I also think Circe could have had more interaction with the nymphs but I understand Miller might have been trying to stay within the original story.

Maybe if Miller had branched out and made those female connections, questioned their position, status, what was allowed to happen to them, then it would have been more of a feminist story.


message 26: by El (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
Great thoughts, Coral. Sadly I haven't read the Lerner, French, or Dashu books that you mention above. Clearly I still have some work to do.


Today is the last day with this book - if anyone has any last minute thoughts (pro-feminist? anti-feminist? is there a feminist message at all? did we get it wrong this month?), feel free to share them!

As always, the thread will stay open so anyone stopping in later can always revitalize it with their thoughts. Tomorrow begins our next nonfiction read - will open a thread for that one tomorrow morning. Hope to see you there!


message 27: by Lucinda (new)

Lucinda (dewluca) Finally got this from library yesterday. Starting today. Hope I can finish before it's due back. Also thinking it may be time to get that new translation of Homer's Odyssey by Emily Wilson. Has anyone else read that?


message 28: by El (new)

El | 756 comments Mod
Lucinda wrote: "Finally got this from library yesterday. Starting today. Hope I can finish before it's due back. Also thinking it may be time to get that new translation of Homer's Odyssey by Emily Wilson. Has any..."

I have not read Wilson's translation but I really want to! A friend of mine has a copy (he actually used to know Wilson back in the day - his brother once dated her, I believe) so I am hoping to borrow it from him.


message 29: by Lucinda (new)

Lucinda (dewluca) Shomeret wrote: "I am not reading this book due to a negative review from someone I trust. My question to those who are reading it, is whether you consider it a feminist book and if so how is it feminist? How do yo..."

I just finished Chapter 6 and would say it is definitely feminist. The events of chapter 6 are a perfect example of patriarchal reactions to women revealing their power and speaking their truth. I can only imagine where the story goes from here, but I don't sense the Circe is going to crawl in a hole and pout. I realize you have already rejected the book, which is your right . . . but if you have a chance to read the first 75 pages, you might be hooked. You don't say why your friend didn't like the book, but if they claimed it wasn't feminist I would suggest you read it and make your own decision. Seems pretty feminist to me . . . and even rather timely given the current "climate".


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