Book reviews: Madeline Miller's Circe is fabulously readable
Circe by Madeleine Miller is published in hardback by Bloomsbury, priced £16.99 (ebook £14.99). Available now
MADELINE Miller won the Orange Prize for fiction in 2012 for her bestselling The Song Of Achilles. Miller is a Latin and Greek teacher who excels at reworking myths and legends for a modern audience. Circe is Titan royalty, the daughter of the Sun god Helios and the nymph Perse. Through her lonely childhood in her father's palace, overshadowed by her more successful siblings; to her eternity of exile on a remote island, the character of Circe is brought fully to life. Circe is banished for using magic and mixing with mortals, and on the island she grows stronger, develops her gift for sorcery and her fascination with mortals continues. This is a gorgeous retelling of Homer's Odyssey blended with other legends. Miller creates a magical narrative: strong relatable characters, cold-hearted gods, flawed heroes, deadly monsters, and best of all, a strong female protagonist. Overall, it is fabulously readable.
The Lido by Libby Page is published in hardback by Orion Fiction, priced £12.99 (ebook £6.99). Available now
This book has a lovely premise but the direction and execution don't go quite so, well, swimmingly. In Libby Page's debut and much touted novel, Rosemary (86) has swum at Brockwell Lido in south London her entire life, while Kate (26) has just moved to the city and is struggling to latch on to any semblance of community. When Kate's day job as a junior reporter on the local paper sees her covering the lido's imminent closure and redevelopment, she and Rosemary strike up a friendship, and battle the developers together. The ideas are heart-warming and sincere – a community pulling together, overcoming loneliness no matter your age, the impact of exercise on mental health, the joy of slicing through water first thing in the morning – but the language often comes off as a saccharine, and the plot points sentimental, absent of any suspense or surprise. The expectation and potential are there, and it may make for a pleasant beach read, but The Lido ultimately flounders.
Square written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen is published in hardback by Walker Books, priced £12.99. Available May 3
A BOARD book on the outside – albeit with a minimalist jacket and stylishly curved corners – open it up and Square is beguiling, simple and amusing. This is US-based Barnett and Klassen's fourth book together, and part two in a trilogy – if you like Square, you'll love Triangle, and Circle is yet to come. It starts by introducing Square, a square the black-brown of a burnt pan with two stubby legs and two expressive oval eyes. He pushes blocks from the bottom of his cave out into the world and stacks them at the top of a hill and does this every day until Circle rolls along and calls him a sculptor. It's a comment that leads to doubt, confusion and one very stressful night for Square, spent trying to carve a block into something 'perfect'. Aimed at five-to-nine-year-olds, adults will find it hard not to smile wryly at the deadpan prose and questioning tone, while Klassen's illustrations are genuinely funny.
Now You're Talking: The Story Of Human Conversation From The Neanderthals To Artificial Intelligence by Trevor Cox is published in hardback by Bodley Head, priced £20 (ebook £9.99). Available May 3
SPEECH and language is such a fascinating topic – after all, some scientists have said it's what really sets humans apart from other animals – but how far does that go, exactly? Very far, actually, and in countless ways that probably never previously occurred to you; at least that's what reading Trevor Cox's Now You're Talking has left me thinking. Cox, a professor of acoustic engineering at University of Salford, sets off on a journey to explore the endless elements that make up human conversation, delving into how evolution has shaped the bones, muscles and nerve responses that give us the physical capacity to create and decipher sound; the role of things like dialect, accent and tone, plus speech defects and brain injuries (and the impact and influence these can have socially and interpersonally); right through to how more modern factors like recording technology and talking robots are continuing to inform and shift our understanding and appreciation of human speech, drawing on scientific studies, theories, case studies and expert interviews, and peppered with anecdotes and observations that ensure Cox's passion for his subject weaves through every page. A brain-pleasing and entertaining read.