Report on The Page Turners Meeting - Meeting, Thursday, 5 September 2019
- Led by Ellen Schofield
The author of Circe, Madeleine Miller, has earned her livelihood for the past ten years teaching Latin, Greek and Shakespeare. One might expect, therefore, that her writing is clever, intelligent and perhaps academic. Academic, “by being overly detailed, unengaging, or theoretical” and/or “having no important consequence or relevancy” (thefreedictionary.com).
Certainly the latter descriptions would ring true with the majority of our group. Having “loved the cover”, some other comments focused on the story being a long winded repetition of itself – “one Greek myth after another” with “so many names!” Miller’s use of language was felt by one reader to be “too many planned descriptions”.
It was noticed by those who continued to the end of the book, 3 of us gave up before doing this, that the seemingly relentless descriptions softened to include a more emotional journey once Circe had a son, met Penelope and (spoiler alert here) chose to move towards becoming mortal. The gist of this seems to be that Circe was prepared to give up her gold blood, her witchcraft and the blessings of the gods which meant that her house was magically cleaned and tidied for her, for the love of a man.
Two standout questions were asked about the book – would it have helped to know more about the Greek myths before reading this? Or, if having mythological knowledge would have tarnished the storytelling in this book even more?
A theme which has some staying power is whether Circe is a feminist book? It identifies the woman as the centre of the story – a self-made woman, since her beginnings were not auspicious both within her family and with the realities of being a female nymph. Circe decided to make her own decisions to live the life she wanted and for that not to be determined by others. Having said that, her exile was determined by her father Helios, but Circe reworked this and embraced the isolation and used it to hone her craft as a witch. Circe went to create her own destiny, having met Prometheus early in the novel; she becomes aware that the fate of humans and gods does not have be ordained by others. Circe develops empathy and to feel pain, and in so doing develops her own freedom.
Once again all of the above comes down to the average score that the group gave this novel. In this case is it 6. Given some of the comments above, this seems like a reprieve.
- Report by Ellen Schofield