This review was originally posted on my Goodreads account in early February 2013. I’m reposting it here, given that I refer to it not infrequently.
I was astounded by this book. Madeline Miller’s achievement cannot be overstated. Here’s a novel that’s absorbingly readable for a modern audience, but that still has the poetry of Homeric sagas. What’s most impressive to me is the balance she finds between exploring the universality of human nature throughout the ages and maintaining the innate alien-ness that I experience every time I read The Iliad—the culture of archaic Greece was so very different from this world we live in today. She lets the truth of that age live and breathe without trying to tame or update it.
I have a difficult time imagining how any book will be able to unseat Madeline Miller’s Circe as my favorite book of the year. It’s lyrical and poetic, intimate and grand in scope, human and godly, challenging and comforting. It’s wise. It’s profound.
It fulfills all the hopes I had for Ms. Miller’s work after her astounding first novel.
Where The Song of Achilles is her reinterpretation of The Iliad, Circe is a looser, more oblique riff on The Odyssey. Told from the first person perspective of the titular character, the work spans centuries and is filled with famous characters from throughout ancient Greek lore: Titans and Olympian gods, Scylla, King Minos and the Minotaur, Daedalus, Jason and Medea, and, of course, Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachus all make appearances. It begins with Prometheus stealing fire and ends with the aftermath of Odysseus’ death. The largest part is taken up with Circe’s relationship with Odysseus and what happens after.
At the 2018 Midwinter Conference of the American Library Association, the President’s Program was a panel discussion titled, “Are Libraries Neutral? Have They Ever Been? Should They Be?” There were debaters and commentators assigned to represent both sides of the argument. This debate inspired a vigorous parallel discussion among librarians and library professionals on Twitter.
I approach the issue of library neutrality from two different directions: ideology and pragmatism. Let’s start with ideology.
When we talk about neutral library spaces and services, we talk about being a place where everyone is welcome, where all views are represented, where everyone has the freedom to make their voices heard and have their needs met. As James LaRue stated for the pro side of the debate: “Everyone gets a seat at the table.”
I passionately agree with Mr. LaRue on this point: libraries should be spaces where everyone gets a seat at the table.
But these words don’t describe neutrality—they describe equality. They envision a space where everyone is equal in access, representation, voice.