Two unforgettable fictional heroines – Circe and Isabel Dalhousie – Book Thoughts

I had the pleasure of reading two great books in the last weeks. Books that are completely based on the female protagonist, and these women make you think, a lot.

So here are my thoughts on the two books I read. If you don’t want to read my blabbering ons about the books, then in short, I enjoyed both books and will recommend both. However, a point to note in both books is that if you’re looking for a fast paced story- be it is fast paced fantasy story with lots of actions or a fast paced detective mystery with lots of twists, then these books may not be for you😊

Circe by Madeline Miller

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Circe is the daughter of the Sun God Helios and Oceanos’ daughter, Perse. She is born a Goddess, a Titan, as per Greek Mythology. This story is Circe’s story, it is about her journey through the ages, and how her life experiences teaches her who she is and who she wants to be.

I had bought this book last year, because of all the raving in the reading community. I have to say, that the book cover is gorgeous. But I only got around to reading it this month, as part of a book club choice for the month of August. I was really excited about starting this book, since I don’t know any of the Greek mythology stories, other from those I’ve watched in movies, like the one which had the handsome Brad Pitt as Achilles, so I know something about Troy and Achilles, but I hadn’t heard of Circe. So this was a brand new story for me.

However, once I started reading the book, I was disappointed in the beginning with Circe’s character and everything that was happening to her. Right from her birth, she is condemned and sneered at, because she doesn’t look beautiful enough, or doesn’t seem to have any powers. That didn’t bother me. What bothered me at the start was that even though she is a Goddess in her own right, she didn’t have any voice at all. And to add to it, she still wanted their (her family and the other Gods’) approval. I know this is very normal behaviour for any girl, but for some reason, or maybe because I have read so many fantasies where the heroine is fierce from the start, or maybe because of the fact that she was a Goddess, I found it hard to digest.

But the real fun started for me, when Glaucos enters her life. I can’t give away too many spoilers for those who are novices to Greek mythology, but after that I started having a new found admiration in Circe’s character. And that’s when it struck me, and this wasn’t the story of a fantastical Goddess, or a witch with superpowers in her fingers. This was the story of a woman, who finds her way in the world through sheer observation, hard work and lots of heart break. She seemed like us then.

I didn’t know about any of the references Madeline Miller weaves into this story, so for me, it was similar to reading a story for the first time. There are some really ghastly scenes on childbirth, but then there are lots of beautiful scenes about the island Aiaia (how does one pronounce that?) to compensate for those scenes. I found Circe’s experiences with love, heartbreak and motherhood, so familiar. Somewhere it comforted me to know that even powerful women and Goddesses and witches have to deal with the mundane 🙂

Circe’s character is shown to be weak at the start, but by the time you reach the end, you realise how far she has come. She has become much stronger and even changes her own destiny, but none of her struggles or ordeals makes her unkind or unfeeling, even in the end, and I really admired that. If one forgets the part that she is a Goddess, this could very well be a story of self realisation and discovery of one’s strengths. Also, I was really amused to read the author’s portrayal of the Greek Gods..they were silly, drunk on power, and almost evil!

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate by Alexander McCall Smith

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This is the second book I read last week, and here is another author I wish I had read much earlier in my life! This was my first Alexander McCall Smith novel, and it was such a delight to read about a practical and intelligent woman, written by a man!

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate is the second in the series of Isabel Dalhousie books, which I found out only after reaching the end of the book, and I believe, I didn’t miss much. Each story is a different one, and I think in the first book, you’re probably introduced to Isabel and a few other recurring characters who are present in the second book too. I picked this book from the library purely on the basis of the title of the book!

Isabel Dalhousie is a philosopher who lives and works in Edinburgh in Scotland. She is in her 40s and single. I female philosopher! I was floored by that..now that’s a profession I would want to get into, so that I could use my thoughts to some good use at least 😀 The fact that I have visited Scotland and Edinburgh, made the setting of the book even more relevant, since I could picture the references of the streets, and the cafes, and some other places of interest and the references to the culture too.

This book is again a slow paced one. It revolves around Isabel’s daily life and a lot on her thoughts on different subjects related to moral ethics. I would love to live her life, I felt, reading about her. Every little thing she did, like even what she ate for breakfast, fascinated me. There is a mystery which is supposed to be the central plot of the book, but I was surprised to find that the mystery element was just to get the story moving forward. There are no ghastly murders, or no crazy or sinister suspects (Ok, maybe one), and no twisted motives (I hope none of these constitute as spoilers!). I felt, that the book was more about these thoughts and about Isabel’s life and her dealings with life and friends, and romance, amongst many other things.

I want to read all of the other books in the Isabel Dalhousie series, because I loved being inside her mind. This book is great to have long discussions about with your reader friend, over a drink or coffee. Every chapter has a topic, that can be discussed at length 🙂

Isabel’s character is also shown to be kind, and intelligent, just as Circe’s. Just as Circe, she is unwilling to be upset over something or dwell over things for too long. She is practical and rational, yet kind and humble. I was really inspired by her and hope I can be somewhat like her when I’m in my 40s 🙂

So, I read about two fictional heroines – one from e Greek Mythology living in Aiaia, and another, a fictional philosopher from Edinburgh, and I loved both these characters, equally, and differently. No, correction, I actually liked Isabel a little more than Circe, because she was a grown up who was in control of her emotions from the start, but that’s the only reason I think.

Questions to you guys:

Have you read either of these books? If yes, what did you think? Do leave me a link of your reviews if you’ve reviewed them 🙂

Have you ever bought a book because of its cover, or just its title? Which was one such book that you bought and were pleasantly surprised?

 

4 thoughts on “Two unforgettable fictional heroines – Circe and Isabel Dalhousie – Book Thoughts

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