Dear readers and tea lovers,
while right now I‘m already deep into the new (and hopefully last) schoolyear, only three weeks ago I was in Greece on a field excursion of our school. As we visited Athens, Delphi, Mycaenae and more – which was so fascinating, even though the weather was way to hot -, I had no choice but to pack a read to match our sightseeing tour. I actually already listened to Stone Blind as an audiobook last year but couldn’t help it as I recently saw it in a bookshop. I bought it, decided to reread it as I loved it the first time around, and then it accompanied me on said 10-day trip, and is a sort of memory holder for me now.
What‘s it about?
Stheno and Euryale are gorgons. Medusa is, too, yet she is human. They are a family and they love each other and yet they can‘t prevent tragedy or injustice. They can‘t prevent what we all know happens: A rape, a curse, a murder.
No, sorry, the slaying of an evil beast, a monster. The rise of a hero, gloriously guided by gods.
Gods like Athena, the heartless warrior; like Gaia, a weeping mother or gods like Poseidon, a petty boy who has been given the power to reign the sea and violate the ones who aren‘t him.
This is their story, and the tale of so many more.
Greek mythology contains some of the funniest stories I know – and also the most tragic. While many modern retellings, e.g. the books by Madeline Miller or Jennifer Saint – which I absolutely adore – tend to focus on the latter, Natalie Heynes, it seems to me, takes a slightly different path as she tells the tale of Medusa in a way that is at once sorrowful, enraging and amusing.
In spite of the storybooks I read as a child telling the story of Perseus the hero who slew the evil gorgon, the fact that Medusa‘s story is far more complex than that wasn‘t new to me when I started reading Stone Blind. Still, having a whole book about this victim who was made a predator – and even this description of her character doesn‘t fit completely – had me excited and interested. Yet, while I expected the story of Medusa as the title of the book tells us, Natalie Heynes gives us a lot more with this novel.
If someone was to try to create a linear timeline of Greek mythology, that someone would start crying pretty soon, I‘m certain. All of the famous and the not-so famous stories are connected in one way or another, even if these ways are contradictory sometimes. Thus, I find it really impressive how Natalie Heynes handled this problem as Stone Blind is far more than one story. This book narrates the war of the Olympians against the Titans, it talks about Perseus‘ mother Danae and about the Ethiopian Andromache at the same time as it lets us understand Medusa‘s Gorgon sisters and even dives into the experiences of personas like Mentis or Gaia or a so-called sea monster, even if they appear only once. In conclusion, this novel shows us the whole picture – or at least as much of it as possible -, instead of just picking one or two heroes who the reader is to sympathize with. We get to feel and think with everyone, experience different point of views and can make our own picture of the different people – or none at all.
As a result, one gets to understand the interdependences of different characters of Greek Mythology and their stories. The fact that it also talks about the determination through reflecting on the carless influence the gods have on mortals’ lives in the myths reminded me of Homer‘s works. But in a modern, feminist way of course. The “classic“, well-known story of Perseus slaying Medusa obviously focuses on him as a hero leaving the gods in the background, only there to help. Yet, „Stone Blind“ shows you that there are other way to tell this tale which feel more authentic. Maybe the reason the hero‘s quest went the way it did, the reason why Medusa had to be cursed and the reason for almost everything that is happening here, are power games of the gods?
And while Natalie Heynes takes this sobering approach, I didn‘t lose interest in any way. Because yes, things might go a certain way because of some overly powerful people being bored and pissed at each other, but the fact that their point of view isn‘t the only one that we get, emphasizes that this doesn‘t make the mortals’ or the Gorgons’ or anyone‘s experiences unimportant just because it might not be the one that “won“.
Now that we have established that “Stone Blind“ includes a lot of characters, I have to be honest and confess that this of course also means that the different individuals don‘t get a lot of “screen“ or rather “page time”. With a book of around 380 pages that would simply not be possible.
Naturally this influenced the individual character’s depth at times. I was entranced by how many different point of views we can experience, but in retrospective some of them lacked character. This is not a problem when it come to the side characters. They themselves might not have so very long to tell their tales, so just experiencing their perspective for once is enough and gives the story another layer. But should that be the case with Medusa herself, with the sisters who should be the centre of the story? I don’t want to say that their characters aren’t interesting or well done. I simply wish they had had more time, more pages to actually – metaphorically and literally – expand their wings.
Another factor that makes for “Stone Blind“ to be so diverse in its content is the switch of mood. Of course, Medusa‘s story is quite tragic. It made me sad and angry because of the injustice she has to endure, but I also loved the sibling-hood of the three Gorgon sisters. It warmed my heart. And I had my fun with the descriptions of Olympus and the gods which are quite humorous. All in all, “Stone Blind“ is a whole palette of people and stories and atmosphere and feelings.
Stone Blind is a great addition to my Greek Mythology-shelf, and a recommendation for anyone who loves these retellings or wants to try. It‘s a multi-facetted novel with a lot of depth to the story, yet maybe a tiny lack of it when it comes to the characters themselves.
About the book:
Title: Stone Blind: Medusa’s Story
Author: Natalie Haynes
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Age recommendation: 14+
All rights to the shown book cover are reserved to the publisher.