The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies, Martin Millar

Note: I received a copy of The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies from the publisher, Soft Skull Press, for review consideration.

Martin Millar writes books like classic British sitcoms, where there is a central organizing event (or several) around which the action is oriented, and the characters all have their separate and incompatible visions for what is to happen at this event, and everything goes magnificently to hell, and then in the end it all turns out okay, or doesn’t. Whether or not this works for you as a structure will most likely be the determining factor in whether you enjoy any Martin Millar book, ever — including his most recent novel, The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies.

The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies is set in ancient Athens, about midway through the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. Athens and Sparta are holding a peace conference, and the city is preparing for the Dionysian festival at which new plays will be presented to the city. Demigods and immortals descend on the city to watch these events unfold (or sabotage them). Aristophanes struggles to get his pro-peace play Peace sorted out, and common-born Luxos does his best to jump-start his career as a poet.

Describing a Martin Millar novel — and this is a very good one — is tricky because all of the adjectives that come to mind come loaded with unwanted connotations. I always say sweet, or charming, and The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies is both sweet and charming, but that undersells its cleverness. Clever implies that there isn’t any heart, and there is because it is impossible not to fall for the sincerity of Millar’s characters (and the super simplicity of their motivations). Sincere misses how funny it is.

I’ll go with funny in the end, and also self-aware: Millar clearly recognizes a level of absurdity in writing a comic novel set in ancient Greece, and his book lets the audience in on the joke without getting too winky. The story has simple stakes, but Millar knows that the historical background was far from simple, and this also shows.

Martin Millar is one of my favorite authors in the sense that you know what one of his books is going to be, and it always is most satisfyingly that. The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies is as solid an introduction to his particular brand of madcap scheme-making story as any he’s written in the past.

Really important question tho: Do you like Athens or Sparta better? (The correct answer is “Athens, but”.)

  • Ana @ things mean a lot

    This has been in my house for like a month; why haven’t I read it yet? CLEARLY FAILING AT LIFE.

  • This sounds ALMOST TOO GOOD. HOW have I not read Martin Millar before?!?!?!?!

    Also, if I didn’t answer “Athens, but” and instead answered “Weeellll…” is it an acceptable answer? I HAVE QUALMS ABOUT ANCIENT ATHENS, OKAY. BUT ALSO ABOUT SPARTA. Ancient peoples: qualm-ridden.

    • Hahahaha, yep, there are so many qualms for so many reasons. I do love Sparta though. And Athens. I love them both. I mostly try to pretend the Peloponnesian War never happened.

  • Jeanne

    In Sparta, women could go out of the house and exercise. That is a big point in its favor.

    • Hahahah, yep, that’s a big one. Remember that time the guy asked the Spartan queen “Why is it that only in Sparta do the women rule the men?” and she was like, “Spartan women are the only women who give birth to men.” BUURRRRRNNNNNN. Feminism BURRRRRRRRRN.

  • litlove

    Ever since Max reviewed this on Shiny, I’ve been very tempted to try Martin Millar. I will have to give him a go. I adore authors who can make me laugh and the storyline is very tempting. Do you think this is better than the werewolf books, Jenny?

    • I wanted to temporize about this question but — yeah. I think this is better. The werewolf books are a lot of fun, but this one’s more sort of contained. I think it would be a good introduction to Martin Millar.

  • Stefanie@SoManyBooks

    Athens or Sparta? Mmm, hard to say. Sparta is pretty badass and Leonidas and the Battle of Thermopylae is so many kinds of awesome. But for every day life, Athens wins hands down. Socrates and Euripides and proto-democracy, all that.

    • I know, I know, but Sparta let their womenfolk be educated and go about in public. Poor Athenian women had to stay inside and be glum.

  • Do you think you’d need a knowledge of ancient greece to really enjoy this? It sounds great, but I’m not well versed on the subject.

    Describing anything like a British sitcom is an automatic win for me.

    • Oh, no, not at all. The book is itself quite aware of ancient Greek history, but it doesn’t ask the reader to be, I don’t think. It’s fun regardless, and if you happen to know a few things about classical antiquity, it has some Easter eggs in there for you.