Saturday, February 11, 2023

A monster reenvisioned: Natalie Haynes' feminist retelling of Medusa's story

Feminist retellings of Greek myths are all the rage, and Haynes stands among the foremost authors in this area. Her third such novel melds her grounding in the classics with a conversational style and biting humor.

With snakes for hair and a petrifying gaze, Medusa has been considered a horrible monster, but Haynes makes us rethink this belief. 

The only mortal among the Gorgons along Libya’s shores, Medusa is an attractive, curious young woman growing up under her loving older sisters’ care. Her rape by Poseidon in Athene’s temple traumatizes her; so does Athene’s act of revenge. Perseus, the supposed hero seeking to decapitate a Gorgon, is an incompetent adventurer without the sense to ask for directions.

Seen from multiple perspectives, including Perseus’s mother, DanaĆ«; prickly goddesses; and the Gorgoneion (Medusa’s head), which speaks with candor, the tale evokes passionate fury on behalf of its heroine, a tragic victim of male violence. Her death scene is utterly heartbreaking. It all begs the question: how could we have gotten Medusa’s story so wrong?

Stone Blind was published this past week in the US by Harper.  Mantle published it in the UK last September. I wrote this review for Booklist's Jan. 1 issue.

Genre-wise, this novel could be considered historical fantasy. Several other novelists have recently turned their own gaze to Medusa's story. Claire Heywood's forthcoming The Shadow of Perseus, from what I understand, removes the supernatural elements and recasts the tale as historical fiction, as seen from a trio of women's viewpoints, including Medusa's.  The Miniaturist author Jessie Burton's Medusa is a YA retelling. Lauren J. A. Bear's upcoming Medusa's Sisters (Ace, Aug. 2023) centers on Stheno and Euryale, Medusa's immortal Gorgon sisters, who are often left out of the myth (they do play significant roles in Natalie Haynes' version, too).  

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