Madeline Miller Author Spotlight: Reviews Of The Song Of Achilles And Circe @MillerMadeline

Madeline Miller Author Spotlight 1

It’s a little hard to be involved in any way in the book world and to not have heard of Madeline Miller. She really came into my radar as an author when I started to hear about the release of her second novel Circe earlier this year. Shortly afterwards I found out that she was being featured in a talk at the LA Times Book Festival. I hadn’t yet read her books but I knew she was a popular author with a rabid fan following, so I jumped at the chance to see her speak.

She opened the segment by reading a passage from Circe that absolutely blew me away for the power and strength of the writing (I’ve included the whole passage in my review below). It literally gave me goosebumps, and right away I knew I needed to read both her books. I’ve been recommending them (especially The Song Of Achilles) ever since and I’m officially a life long fan of her work. Read my full reviews of both of her novels below.

LineThe Song Of Achilles Review On Novels And NonfictionThe Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Publication Date: September 5th 2011
Published By: Bloomsbury Publishing
Length In Hardcover: 352 pages
Goodreads Rating: 4.30


Plot TeaserGreece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

What I LikedTimeless yet modern legend. What Miller attempted in this novel is no easy feat. To take an enduring story like that of the Iliad and find a way to retain its essence while making it new and accessible to a modern audience is an extremely hard ask. The mastery with which Miller was able to establish that balance between the mythical tone and language of the novel and the supremely relatable character of Patroclus is what makes the novel a modern classic. Mixed in with the feeling of a timeless legend told around a fire is the present-day sensibility that informs the themes of love, friendship and acceptance that are central to the novel.

The love story. I’m not one to cry much from reading a book. I might tear up at some especially moving passages, but I was pouring liquid from my eyes towards the end of this novel. I’m just saying you might want to wait to read the last third or so of the book until you’re somewhere private. The romance between Patroclus and Achilles is an unlikely one (what with Achilles being a demi god and Patroclus not exactly portrayed as the hero type), but their story was told in such a genuine and relatable way by Miller that you can’t help but fall for both of them and their love as well. There’s a purity to their bond that was so refreshing to get immersed in considering how rare it seems to be within the real world.

“This, I say. This and this. The way his hair looked in summer sun. His face when he ran. His eyes, solemn as an owl at lessons. This and this and this. So many moments of happiness, crowding forward.” 

The writing. Oh yeah, and did I forget to mention that Miller’s writing is generally beautiful with frequent forays into breathtaking? I can’t believe this was her debut novel, although I did learn from her that she toiled away at it over ten years. The care put into Miller’s prose is obvious in every passage, and I especially enjoyed reading sections out loud (to my very appreciative rabbit). Her wording has heft and melody to it that does justice to the mythical nature of her story, sounding both fresh and ancient somehow at the same time.

“I could have told him more, of the dreams that left me bleary and bloodshot, the almost-screams that scraped my throat as I swallowed them down. The way the stars turned and turned through the night above my unsleeping eyes.”

What I Didn't LikeAlmost nothing. I always struggle to find something to say that I didn’t like in books I give five stars to because, clearly, I loved them. I think it’s an interesting exercise, however, to think about what could have make this book I loved reading even better. The best I can come up with when it comes to The Song Of Achilles is that a few of the supporting characters were one-dimensional and slightly caricatured – specifically Achille’s goddess mother (though she might have seemed caricatured just by the fact she’s not a mortal), and most of the kings that pop in and out of the story. I also felt that the book got just a tad slow right around the middle.

Final Verdict5 Rabbits Rating

A transporting, exquisitely written, modernized retelling of the Illiad. Even if you didn’t love having to read the original in high school or college, you’ll fall for Patroclus and Achilles’ doomed but beautiful love story.

LineCirce Book Review On Novels And NonfictionCirce by Madeline Miller

Publication Date: April 10th 2018
Published By: Little, Brown and Company
Length In Hardcover: 400 pages
Goodreads Rating: 4.37


Plot TeaserIn the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves. Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

What I LikedCirce. I found the protagonist of the novel – Circe – pretty relatable for being a goddess. The book is really the story of her growth and transformation into someone who sheds the dullness and one-dimensional nature of the other immortal gods that make up her family. From the beginning of the novel, she’s set apart from them already, with a thirst for more meaning to her life implanted in her being from somewhere. Throughout the narrative, she discovers what is important to her and becomes an increasingly complex and in some ways ‘human’ individual, gaining warmth and also fallibility. Her portrayal connects to the strong theme of feminism in the book and I found her quite captivating.

“I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open.” 

The gods. It was very interesting to see Miller’s take on gods more fully fleshed out in Circe, because we really only get a hint of it through Achilles’ mother in her prior novel. Here, Miller takes us into their gilded living quarters, showing us the distinctive ways in which they don’t look like, act like or think like humans. She elaborates on the ideological rules and customs that govern their world, and it’s ultimately Circe’s disagreement with these rules and customs that leads her to separate more and more from her roots as a goddess. Miller also explores the significance of immortality for the gods, as Circe grapples with the prospect of spending eternity on her island. The island itself becomes a foil for the the arguably beautiful and yet inescapably limited nature of immortality.

“I thought once that gods are the opposite of death, but I see now they are more dead than anything, for they are unchanging, and can hold nothing in their hands.” 

The writing. Hearing a passage of Circe read aloud was what made me run to read Miller’s first novel – The Song Of Achilles – in the first place. I’m including this passage nearly in full below because it’s so good it gives me goosebumps every time I read it. I don’t think that the writing in Circe was consistently as strong as in The Song Of Achilles, but Circe was still beautifully written.

“After I changed a crew, I would watch them scrabbling and crying in the sty, falling over each other, stupid with their horror. They hated it all, their newly voluptuous flesh, their delicate split trotters, their swollen bellies dragging in the earth’s muck. It was humiliation, a debasement. They were sick with longing for their hands, those appendages men use to mitigate the world.

Come, I would say to them, it’s not that bad. You should appreciate a pig’s advantages. Mud-slick and swift, they are hard to catch. Low to the ground, they cannot easily be knocked over. They are not like dogs, they do not need your love. They can thrive anywhere, on anything, scraps and trash. They look witless and dull, which lulls their enemies, but they are clever. They will remember your face.

They never listened. The truth is, men make terrible pigs.”

What I Didn't LikeLess complex. Even while Circe is a very well-executed novel in its own right, it comes second in my mind to The Song Of Achilles in complexity and completeness. In part, this is due to the different premises of the two novels. The story of Circe is clearly a much more self-contained one to elaborate on than that of the Iliad, with a single main character rather than two playing off of each other. Circe is also marooned on a single island for much of the novel, further circumscribing the plot to one locale. It may just come down to the fact that immortal lives are always less interesting than mortal ones due to the fact that mortal experiences are magnified by the threat of death.

Final Verdict4 Rabbits Rating

A strong protagonist will make you rethink what you thought about the lives of Greek gods and goddesses, the nature of immortality and the capacity of a woman with a room (or island) of her own to remake herself.

About The Author

Madeline Miller Author Image On Novels And Nonfiction

Madeline Miller was born in Boston and grew up in New York City and Philadelphia. She attended Brown University, where she earned her BA and MA in Classics. She has taught and tutored Latin, Greek and Shakespeare to high school students for more than fifteen years.

The Song of Achillesher first novel, was awarded the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction and was a New York Times Bestseller. It has been translated into over twenty-five languages including Dutch, Mandarin, Japanese, Turkish, Arabic and Greek. Madeline was also shortlisted for the 2012 Stonewall Writer of the Year, and her essays have appeared in a number of publications including the GuardianWall Street JournalLapham’s Quarterly and Her second novel, Circe, was an instant number 1 New York Times bestseller. She currently lives outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

LineHave you read either of Madeline Miller’s novels? What did you think of them? Do you agree with my ratings? Let me know in the comments.

If you want to read my previous Author Spotlights on Novels And Nonfiction you can find them here: Andy Weir, Eowyn Ivey, Liane Moriarty, Selina Siak Chin Yoke, Jane Austen, Terry Pratchett, Yuval Noah Harari.

If you’d like to keep up to date with posts on Novels And Nonfiction, make sure to follow me on WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest.

Please note this post contains affiliate links from Book Depository.

  16 comments for “Madeline Miller Author Spotlight: Reviews Of The Song Of Achilles And Circe @MillerMadeline

  1. September 11, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    Awesome reviews. I also absolutely adored both of these and can not wait to see what she writes next! Have you read her short story called Galatea? It was really interesting as well!

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 12, 2018 at 5:53 pm

      I hadn’t heard of the short story! I’ll definitely have to check it out. Thanks for letting me know 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. September 11, 2018 at 4:25 pm

    I read Circe but I was pretty disappointed with it :/ I wanted a re-telling of a myth, not a long, drawn-out version of a myth I’ve already read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 12, 2018 at 5:52 pm

      That’s interesting! You’re not the first person I’ve heard that didn’t really like Circe. I think it is quite slow for someone who prefers an action-packed plot, but I’m on the side of loving novels that lean towards more of a character study or are conveying an atmosphere through elaborate descriptions. That’s why reading and blogging about books is so fascinating – there are always different opinions!

      Liked by 1 person

      • September 12, 2018 at 8:42 pm

        Totally agree with you there! I love character-based novels… but characterizing an immortal god from mythology was probably difficult lol

        Liked by 1 person

  3. B Lostinacoulee
    September 11, 2018 at 10:36 pm

    Fantastic review and post! I have both of theses and you have convinced me I need to read them soon!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Susie | Novel Visits
    September 12, 2018 at 3:54 am

    I love your reviews, Ottavia! Like you, I am a lifelong fan of Madeline Miller thanks to these two books. For me they were both five star book! A similar book that just came out is The Silence of the Girls and it’s written from the perspective of Briseis, so you get a whole different take on the Trojan War, Achilles, and the big stand off between him and Agamemnon. I sort of did a compare & contrast review of it with Song of Achilles last week. Bring on more mythology!

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 12, 2018 at 5:51 pm

      I picked The Silence Of The Girls as my September Book Of The Month selection and I just got the package yesterday. Once I’m done with my August books, I’m definitely reading that next 🙂 Can’t wait!


  5. Ova
    September 12, 2018 at 10:31 am

    So lucky that you went to her talk and glad you enjoyed both books and the talk!

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 12, 2018 at 5:49 pm

      Thanks Ova! Yes, I can’t wait for next year’s LA Book Fest to see more great authors in person!


  6. September 12, 2018 at 5:16 pm

    I agree! I agree! I agree! I discovered Miller when Achilles came out and after reading it knew I would read whatever she wrote. Then she was in Seattle at a book store for Circe and I got to hear her and meet her and she was so intelligent and entertaining. Talk about someone who has followed their passion since childhood! She inspired me to read The Odyssey, which is saying a lot. I’m ready for her next book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 12, 2018 at 5:49 pm

      I’m so ready too Catherine! But since The Song Of Achilles took her 10 years and Circe 7 I’m kind of worried it’ll be a while :/


  7. September 17, 2018 at 12:22 am

    I’m kind of surprised I’ve not picked these up yet, because I’ve loved Greek mythology since middle school and I’ve heard great things about them. Thanks for the reminder that they’re on my TBR 🙂 I’m glad they lived up to the hype for you!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. September 21, 2018 at 6:38 pm

    I adored Circe – it was my very first Book of the Month subscription pick. I have Song of Achilles on my Kindle (snagged it on sale for $2 a while back!) but haven’t yet read it. I keep meaning to. But I have so many library books… and Circe threw me into a reading slump for almost two weeks. It was SO. GOOD. I just couldn’t start another book for a while. I really should read Achilles at some point, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 22, 2018 at 5:38 pm

      There are definitely people that have the opposite opinion of me – that Circe is better than Song Of Achilles rather than vice versa. I’d be curious to find out which camp you end up being in once you read Song Of Achilles. I’m going to assume you’re going to love it even more than Circe (if that’s possible) 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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