Medusa by Jessie Burton gives us a compelling spin on the legend of the snake-haired girl whose gaze turns onlookers to stone. Mythology buffs will know her as a monstrous character, ultimately beheaded by one of the most famous heroes of Ancient Greek folklore. Here, however, she is a young woman with her own take on events. This gloriously illustrated book brings us Medusa’s story, a heady tale of love, betrayal, tyranny, and ultimately, the path to self-acceptance.
Medusa lives on a beautiful but remote island, in self-imposed exile with her two sisters, for reasons that become clear as the story unfolds. Her sisters are immortal but Medusa remains human, enduring ‘…days when I thought I might go mad…a half-life, living in caves and shadows.’
Angry at her predicament and often lonely, Medusa’s seclusion ends the day a boat washes ashore and a young man steps into her life. This is Perseus, chiselled, handsome, and possessed of a gleaming shield and sword, the ruby at its hilt twinkling portentously like ‘a gleaming ball of blood.’ Unwilling to reveal her serpent hair, Medusa strikes up a conversation with him from behind a rock, a hidden conversation that will meander across days and reveal painful secrets.
Burton’s perspective on the life of Medusa is both vivifying and challenging. Greek mythology tells us that she was raped as a girl, by none other than Poseidon, god of the sea. Afterwards, disbelieved and vilified, she and her loyal sisters were cursed by the wrathful goddess, Athena, who bequeathed Medusa a head of snakes and her famously stony stare.
Burton is excellent at highlighting this as a bygone #MeToo narrative and depicting Medusa as a wronged and spirited young woman. As she exchanges confidences with Perseus, the pair find themselves ‘tiptoeing on the edge of what some would call love.’ But Perseus still hasn’t glimpsed her face, or revealed the whole story of his voyage. Are we headed towards a Greek Tragedy?
A fascinating read.
Medusa by Jessie Burton is published by Bloomsbury YA, 224 pages.