Saturday, December 09, 2023

Jessie Burton's feminist Medusa flips the script on an ancient Greek myth

Originally published in 2022 for young adults, Burton’s feminist reboot of Medusa’s story has been reissued for the adult market, where mythological re-imaginings flourish.

After her terrible transformation four years earlier, Medusa, now 18, and her immortal older sisters self-exiled to a deserted island, seeking peace. When Medusa observes a beautiful stranger anchoring his boat, she foresees a potential end to her loneliness.

She and the boy, Perseus, grow close while exchanging personal histories, even though Medusa gives him a false name and doesn’t let him see her. Each draws back from revealing their ultimate secret—for Medusa, her head of multicolored snakes; for Perseus, the deadly purpose that led him there. A reckoning with the truth awaits.

Burton compassionately humanizes her protagonist, a rape survivor yearning for the normal life she can never have, in unambiguous, occasionally poetic contemporary language as Medusa grows in self-confidence. While not as substantial as Natalie Haynes’ Stone Blind (2023), this short novel of betrayal and destiny, which questions who the myth’s real monsters are, grants Medusa a well-deserved, empowering finale.

YA recommendation: Medusa’s narrative encapsulates the themes of the #MeToo movement in an honest, vulnerable voice that YAs can easily relate to.

Medusa was published (or I should say, republished) in paperback by Bloomsbury this month.  I wrote this review for Booklist's November 1st issue. The most recent cover is at the top; the original YA version is further down. The original indicates it contains illustrations, although these weren't there in the version I read. It's not typical that YA novels are reissued for adults, though this novel could work either way. Whether Burton's retelling is truly historical fiction (of the historical fantasy variety) is open to debate, since the story feels more timeless than ancient. There are references to specific places, but little sense of the historical past. 

Burton is also the author of The Miniaturist, its sequel The House of Fortune, and The Muse (links to my reviews).

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