November Book of the Month – Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes

Adaora Elliott

Stone Blind is a fairly new book, having only come out in September 2022, but it’s likely to join the ranks of other lauded retellings such as Song of Achilles, Circe and Silence of the Girls, says Adaora Elliott.

Stone Blind tells, or rather retells, the story of Medusa, Andromeda, Perseus, Athena, Poseidon and the power struggles that exist both between the gods and between gods and mortals. Medusa has always been a popular figure for iconography and art but there has been a recent resurgence of reclaimations of the character in modern literature alongside the re-emergence of myth retellings.

Where previously we have only seen monsters, Haynes sees sisters

Medusa is centred but in order to get the full width and breadth of the story, Haynes switches between multiple different points of view and jumps back and forward in time, allowing for thematic links and lesser-known details of the story to shine through and for various character arcs and plots to link together in a way that makes sense and explains everyone’s reasoning for their behaviour.

Stone Blind includes so many aspects of Greek and Roman myth but is still so accessible to readers not familiar with the stories. Additionally, it’s just so well written. It’s the kind of witty and thought-provoking writing that Haynes is known for and she gives the main characters real heart. Where previously we have only seen monsters, Haynes sees sisters. Where characters were silent, she gave them voices.

Medusa and her sisters are fully-fledged, fleshed-out characters with their own goals, relationships, and feelings, who are still true to traditional representations. They are characters that you root for and smile to yourself because of their family dynamic and dread every page turn knowing what will happen to them. Because we all know what is going to happen to them.

[The gods’] laissez-faire attitudes make them even more terrifying

Haynes’ godly characters are still more interesting. She shows them to be every bit the petty, immature, childish and vindictive figures they’ve always been in Greek and Roman myth but she doesn’t let this undercut just how incredibly powerful they are. They’re still extremely threatening — in fact, their laissez-faire attitudes make them even more terrifying. She does not mince her words when it comes to the threat the gods pose and the power they hold over mortals. It is apparent that every mortal, and even the other gods, are just caught up in the schemes and machinations of beings greater than themselves and therein lies the tragedy.

A mortal life can be ruined, thrown into chaos and disarray and the gods don’t even think twice about it. Haynes’ gods are not all-knowing or all-powerful, but a mortal can never quite be sure that they are not watching them – they can never fully know if they have insulted the gods’ fragile egos until they are forced to deal with the consequences.

I cannot recommend this book enough

My only criticism is that in making it a feminist tale, Haynes assassinates Perseus’ character. He’s not the greatest hero on the best day, having received a lot of divine intervention, but to paint him as so naïve seems like a disservice and an overlaboured point in the book.

If you are interested in mythology, especially Greek and Roman myth, I cannot recommend this book enough. Although, I will warn you here that it contains some upsetting topics such as sexual harassment and assault.

Adaora Elliott

Featured image courtesy of deepigoyal via Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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