Stone Blind - Natalie Haynes
My third Natalie Haynes book after the Children of Jocasta and 1000 ships, and to be honest, my least favourite of the three. I had high expectations about what she would bring to the tale of Medusa and Perseus, but I wasn't ready for the pure, raw hatred of Perseus that permeates this story, or the lack of Medusa herself.
Like 1000 ships, Haynes rotates viewpoints giving voice to a myriad of unexpected characters. This works well with the Trojan War, as it allows her to bring neglected female characters to the forefront, but the cast in Medusa's tale is much smaller and the added creatures (olives, crows, etc) only serve to detract from the characters that interested me.
Haynes is faithful to the myth as most know it, so instead of focusing on what she does with the plot, I'd like to discuss the major characters and what she does with each of them.
Spoilers for the Book from here on out.
Medusa is still a bit part in her own narrative. Her point of view is
limited and it's hard to get a sense of her personality other than "kind
and curious". Her rape scene with Poseidon is well-written and one of the few moments of character development we get. She is compassionate to the mortals and brave in the face of danger. After that she is trapped by shame, and then later, Athena's punishment. Horrified by her curse, she hides away from the world. That's about it. Even her head has more personality and bite.
The book spends a lot of time asking "who is really a monster?" and heavy-handedly casting Perseus as the true monster and Medusa as innocent victim - a flip that could have been interesting with the right touch.
Arguably one of the better Greek heroes, Haynes has taken him and twisted Perseus into a pure sociopath. He's stupid, bumbling, arrogant, and delights in murdering people for even the tiniest of slights. He feels no remorse and has no plan or does anything for himself. I suppose this was to create the contrast with Medusa and supply the book with a villain, but there are already plenty of villains in this story, the gods.
The gods, especially Athena
I do enjoy what Haynes has done with the Greek deities. They are cold, jealous, bitter, and petty, just like the original myths. Mortals capture their interest for only fleeting moments, then they move on. Perseus may be awful, but he wouldn't have done any real damage without the gods holding his hand.
The most interesting take is Athena. A vain, spoiled goddess, she takes her revenge out on the undeserving out of spite for petty insults that a true goddess should be able to let go. Haynes takes this insecurity and lays it out on the page wonderfully. Athena is miserable and can't understand why. It takes Medusa's severed head to point this out to her - she's lonely and in pain. Despite my disappointment with a lot of the narrative, the final scene between Athena and her Gorgoneion (the head) is poignant and touching.
Easily the best part of the book. What the narrative fails to do with Medusa herself, it does well with the Gorgon sisters. They are a bit interchangeable, but watching them love and care for Medusa is the best part of the book. They are immortal, like the gods, and at first lack the awareness and passion that comes with a short life, but through Medusa they grow and change. They learn to cook for her because they love their little sister.