If you went near a Waterstones in April, you will have seen stacks of Circe, a paperback with a beautifully intricate bronze and black cover. It was their book of the month and is also ours and – having now made the shortlist – may win this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. Anyone who has read Madeline Miller’s heady first novel Song of Achilles (2012) will know why her second book has appealed to such a broad range of readers. They will also be keen to devour it because Miller has once again turned a Homeric epic into, as the Independent said of her first book, “a sexy page-turner.”
Song of Achilles has now been published in 25 languages as well as winning the Women’s Prize for fiction (then called the Orange Prize). It has also helped shift perceptions of classical epics. When Miller wrote Song of Achilles, Margaret Atwood may have already written The Penelopiad (her 2005 retelling of The Odyssey from the viewpoint of Odysseus’s wife) but internationally bestselling feminist takes on classical epics were still a rarity.