Witchcraft


A chance find in our favourite, delightfully well run, richly stocked, Oxfam bookshop (the one in Saffron Walden, since you ask) — a copy of Madeline Miller’s recently published Circe. The novel has been very well reviewed (and some readers I follow on twitter have been bowled over). But we weren’t planning on getting this, as — for whatever reason — neither of us really took to the author’s previous best-seller, The Song of Achilles. Still, here was the really rather beautifully produced hardback of her new book, at a fraction of the price. And after reading the first couple of pages … well, I had to snap it up.

By another chance, I finished the novel I had been reading recently the very next day (Philip Roth’s American Pastoral since you ask – much featured in those lists of “the five novels of Roth’s which you must read” which appeared after his death, and yes, I hadn’t read it before, and yes, I should have done, because yes, it is terrific.) So I picked up Circe again straight away and continued reading. Tales of gods and witches and magic are not usually my thing at all. Nor is writing which can be consciously mannered, sometimes echoing old translations from the Greek epics, oddly mixed with modern vernacular. And yet — by witchcraft! — it works wonderfully well. Once you allow yourself to be swept up in the rhythms of the prose, there is much delight to be found in the writing. And the unfolding of tale itself becomes entirely  compelling. Circe describes the trickster Odysseus as a “spiral shell. Always another curve out of sight”; but what Madeline Miller does is bring vividly into sight Circe’s own spiralling journey into the human world. I felt rather bereft when the book ended.

I’m not sure though what happened to the men turned into swine …

1 thought on “Witchcraft”

  1. I like the image of the spiral shell for Odysseus (certainly much more than I do Emily Wilson’s ill-judged choice of “complicated”).

    There have been many Greek retellings recently — Colm Tóibín House of Names, Natalie Haynes The Children of Jocasta, Pat Barker The Silence of the Girls, Kamila Shamsie Home Fire, plus some others I can’t remember right now — along with a steady stream of new translations of the Iliad and Odyssey. I like this, but I find it a bit surprising. Perhaps it’s true that new plots aren’t needed (or don’t exist), so that it makes sense to use an old one.

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