Notes from my bookshelf: Circe, by Madeline Miller

Power and isolation: Even goddesses get lonely

As many of us find ourselves in lock-down, social distancing or self-isolation I thought now seemed like the perfect time to kick-start my new series of blogs called, Notes from my bookshelf. I'm an avid reader and find the opportunity to escape from my reality into someone else's incredibly calming and therapeutic as well as exciting. Given the 'new normal' we find ourselves in at the moment I couldn't think of a better time to start sharing some of the books that I've found exciting, enticing and extraordinary. From my social distancing to yours - I hope you enjoy.

First up is Madeline Miller's Circe. This is the time to stay safe, stay home and read!

“I felt distant and very clear, like a hawk borne upon the highest aether.”

In all honesty the idea of being a goddess, has at times, seemed like a very appealing concept to me. I imagined I’d be tall (definitely a goddess feature in my mind) and powerful. And, of course I wouldn’t have to worry about pesky little human things like dying or eating too many chocolate eclairs. But, reading Miller’s Circe, provides an alternative perspective of the joys (and pains) of power and immortality. And gives us instead a very human portrait of isolation, loneliness and the struggle to find self-worth and love.

"I lay in our empty halls, my throat scraping with loneliness, and when I could not bear it any longer, I fled…to my old deserted shore.”

Why I’m reading it

Well, the reason I purchased this book is two-fold. 1. I really liked the cover (I’m not joking) and 2. The guy in Waterstones saw me holding it and said, ‘Oh you need to buy that. I’m a third of the way in and can’t put it down. Literally I was late to my shift today coz I just didn’t stop reading.’ With that kind of recommendation what was I meant to do?

“Now that Medea had named my loneliness, it hung from everything, clinging like spider-webs, unavoidable.”

What it’s about

Essentially, the story is about a woman, well ok goddess, who’s despised and rejected by her family. Circe isn’t the archetypal nymph-goddess you see. And, after royally hacking off her father, the great god Helios, Circe is banished to live alone on a remote island. For ever.

Circe’s path to finding her own power and resilience and consequently finding her own self-worth doesn’t run smooth. Loneliness, fear, anger, joy, contentment and passion all feature. It’s a very human journey. I felt like I could relate to some of her experiences. I’ve certainly been in situations where I felt rejected and overlooked and have had to find ways to overcome it from my own strength and sense of self. And if you have too, then Circe (the book and the goddess) may well resonate with you.

Fair warning, this is a re-telling of the ancient Greek story from a couple of thousand years ago. So, it’s hard to claim spoilers but there are some of the big names like Odysseus, Athena and Hermes who drop in to Circe’s story. Personally, I liked this as it tied up stories I partially knew already. And, it means that although the heroine is largely in the same location for a lot of the book, there’s actually a lot of action to keep you second-guessing what happens next.

“Not even Odysseus could talk his way past witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.”

Who’s it for

If I hadn’t been recommended the book by a chap at Waterstones I think I’d have been tempted to say this is one for the girls, however, on reflection, I don’t think it is. The themes in the book are

universal. I mean I’d be a bit of a wally if I thought for a second that only women get lonely or face struggles in life.

So, this book is for everyone, and I really mean that, anyone of any age. It’s refreshing to have a story from the Greek classics told from the perspective and voice of a woman. I’m not getting on the feminist bandwagon too much here – but traditionally the female is seen and not heard in these stories. And Circe very much makes her mark and her makes sure her voice is heard. I found I could connect so much more to this story because I felt like I was hearing a voice I could relate to.

On a different note, if you’re facing a lonely time, if you’re in a moment where you feel vulnerable and defeated – then this book could be a comforting and inspiring read. Because, ultimately this is the story of a lonely and rejected woman who finds her own power and self-worth. And, in doing so overcomes some huge obstacles to becoming the best version of herself she can be – for herself and those she loves.

“All my life I have been moving forward, and now I am here.”

If you’ve got a recommendation for me to read and feature on Notes from my Bookshelf let me know, email me at or Instagram me at Alcea1

All the quotes in this post are from Madeline Miller’s Circe, Bloomsbury, 2019 edition.

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