Saturday, September 16, 2023

Medusa, by Jessie Burton (ill by Olivia Lomenech Gill)

Life in exile is lonely for Medusa.  Her sisters are often away and she is left in a cave on an island, tending the snakes that have replaced her hair.  One day, a boy named Perseus arrives on the island.  Both her sisters and the goddess Athena have warned Medusa that she must not allow herself to be seen, so she hides.  The boy is persistent though in his desire to meet her.  

They settle for a friendship (of sorts) speaking to each other through a wall.  Perseus relates his story of woe and Medusa reciprocates.  They find commonalities and bond, with Perseus pledging his love and Medusa fantasizing that she might be able to reveal her disfiguration and still be accepted by the boy.  However, when Perseus realizes who Medusa really is and she in turn comes to know the reason he has come to the island.

Feminist retellings of Greek myths (and the story of Medusa in particular) have been done before.  In modern eyes, Medusa's fate is a shocking tale of double standards and victim blaming, so it makes good material.  What makes this version so interesting is the presentation -- the illustrations from Olivia Lomenech Gill.  This is a beautiful book.  Gill's deceptively simple drawings add great depth to the story.  Combined with Burton's spare text, the book is truly greater than its parts.  This is really one of my favorite retellings to date.  It doesn't break new ground but is a remarkable package.

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