The Song of Achilles and Circe by Madeline Miller
For June I’m looking at two books by Madeline Miller. Both of these books explore Greek mythology in more detail, focussing on people and their perspective of the story, rather than just recounting the famous deeds. I have always had a passing interest in Greek mythology and remember enjoying learning about it at school, but I’m a little hazy on the facts. I read these books back to back as I got so into the theme of them, but I have no idea how much is based on the original story and how much is Miller’s own artistic licence. Either way I thoroughly enjoyed them both and felt truly immersed in the worlds of both Circe and Patroclus (the protagonist of The Song of Achilles).
The Song of Achilles is a heart-breaking love story that follows two young boys as they grow up together and are thrust into a war that has nothing to do with them, all thanks to the whims and manipulations of those in positions of power. Being familiar with the overall story of Achilles I struggled to see how the naïve characters introduced at the beginning of the book would make their way to their inevitable end, but the detail that Miller supplies draws you into the narrative and you begin to understand the decisions the characters make that lead to the twists and turns of the story.
Circe follows the lesser-known daughter of a Titan, famous for turning sailors into pigs. This is all I knew of Circe before I read this book, but again Miller explores the motivations behind the actions of the characters that appear in the book and opens up your understanding as to what makes people behave in the way that they do; the shape their lives take due to the influence of others and how they choose to react to it. It’s a great journey of someone who is made to feel powerless by those around her, but gradually begins to discover the extent of her own power and how to use it to carve her own impression on the world.
Although The Song of Achilles was published first I actually began by reading Circe. Some of the characters do appear in both books, namely Odysseus who is at a later part of his story in Circe than he is in The Song of Achilles, however I didn’t feel it made a difference which way round they were read. The stories stand alone so you do not need to read both books to feel like you are getting the full story either.
I would recommend a basic knowledge of Greek mythology prior to reading these books. Having a good idea about the Gods and the Titans and other mythological creatures helps to set the scene and bring the ancient world to life, however I think these books are so well written that they can be enjoyed even without this background knowledge.
Have you read these books? I’d love to hear your thoughts about them.