Circe by Madeline Miller
The jacket copy of this book (or, for me, summary description online) did not thrill. The book seemed odd, but then, I was looking for something different to read. The structure is a first person memoir by the nymph Circe. A knowledge of classic mythology helps, but isn't necessary.
Circe is a nymph, "the least of the lesser goddesses." She is the daughter of Persus, a water goddess, and Helios, the sun god. Talk about a conflicted family tree! Her parents and siblings are a catty, power-tripping bunch who do not treat her well.
According to legend she assisted Promethus before he was exiled to an island where his liver was perpetually pecked out by birds only to grow back the next day. That was her first rebellion in Ms. Miller's book. She started dabbling in pharmaka, the art of transforming things using herbs. She turned the mortal, Glaucos, on whom she had an almost debilitating school-girl crush ,into a god--a change that transmogrified him from a nice guy into a churl. In a jealous tantrum she transformed the lovely nymph Scylla, whom Glaucus preferred over Circe who, after all, had just done him the huge favor of making him immortal, into the multi-limbed monster of Scylla and Charybdis fame. For these transgressions her father exiled her to a solitary island where she pursued pharmaka mastery, and practiced it on hapless sailors who stopped by uninvited by turning them into swine., Then, Odysseus, the ultimate hapless sailor, appears, stays for a couple of years, leaves, and then she has a son by him. The book continues with a similarly incredible story line of her raising her son, eventually meeting and befriending Penelope (Odysseus's wife) and Telemachus (Odysseus' son), and ultimately, sailing off into the sunset with Telemachus.
See what I mean, about this not being a book demanding that you pick it up and read it.
But, it's a very good book. Circe's unpleasant habits, obsessions and tantrums are pretty reasonable compared to the pantheon of superpowers around her, and seeing events from her perspective, well, Glaucus actually deserved what he got. Once you step through the mythical door into this classical funhouse of personalities events seem logical and Circe, with her "how I became what I am today" saga reels you in.
By the way, I read this book as an audiobook, which may be important because one of the enjoyable aspects was the poetic and almost mesmerizing voice of the reader.