Medusa by Jessie Burton, ill. Olivia Lomenech Gill

Medusa by Jessie Burton, ill. Olivia Lomenech Gill

My book review of Medusa, written by Jessie Burton (author of The Miniaturist, The Muse and The Confession for adults and The Restless Girls (illustrated by Angela Barrett) for children, illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill, published Bloomsbury is in Magpies magazine now – November 2021. (See review reproduced with permission below)

Medusa is a feminist retelling of the Ancient Greek myth about the young woman who is cursed by the goddess Athena. Her hair is transformed into writhing snakes and she is banished to a remote island. Young man and hero, Perseus, reaches the island and a double case of unknown or mistaken identity allows an attraction to develop between him and Medusa. As we know, any relationship between Medusa and Perseus will not end well …

Classically written with a contemporary feel, it is a strong expose of how women, particularly young women, can be exploited.

Image from Medusa by Olivia Lomenech Gill

Quote from my review in Magpies: “We learn of the sometimes-destructive impact of the male gaze and male desire and power over inexperienced, vulnerable women that, in this story, culminates in Medusa’s violation by the god Poseidon. To prolong her sorrows, she is derided and rejected by her people who blame – not the stalker and rapist – but Medusa for being young and beautiful. The tale is damming of men, and society…

This new Medusa calls for acknowledgement of male transgression, community blindness and culpability and vindication of wronged women.”

Image from Medusa by Olivia Lomenech Gill

It is a classic tale that is also of our time.

Introduction to the book https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-AM5MYE2jo8

Review in Magpies magazine

Jessie Burton is the author of The Miniaturist, The Muse and The Confession for adults and The Restless Girls (illustrated by Angela Barrett), a reimaged fairy tale inspired by The Twelve Dancing Princesses about girls who circumvent their powerless state, for young readers. Her new book Medusa, lavishly illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill, further explores this preoccupation.

In a feminist version of the ancient Greek myth, young Medusa is exiled to a rocky island, where its barren beauty gives her some respite and peace. Her two immortal winged sisters return to the island each evening with food. Medusa is content in some ways despite her isolation caused by her Athena-cursed hair of snakes. The snakes are intelligent, unwieldy and unpredictable and are personalised with names and idiosyncrasies, such as Echo who is small, coral-coloured with emerald bands and is sweet-natured yet protective.

The arrival of a golden, glowing young man, Perseus son of Zeus, is the catalyst for the revelation of her loneliness and sharing of her memories. She does not allow Perseus to see her because she is a “monster” and remembers Athena’s warning, Woe betide any man fool enough to look upon you now. They converse while sitting on either side of a cave wall. Medusa feels her heart open to him, and his reciprocation. We learn of the sometimes-destructive impact of the male gaze and male desire and power over inexperienced, vulnerable women that, in this story, culminates in Medusa’s violation by the god Poseidon. To prolong her sorrows, she is derided and rejected by her people who blame – not the stalker and rapist – but Medusa for being young and beautiful. The tale is damming of men, and society.

The writing is classical in style but has a lively voice with hard-hitting deliberations to engage contemporary readers. The watercolour of the illustrations portrays the transitory yet formidable elements of sea and sky as well as the lyrical quality of myth, and the elements of collage reflect the revisionist interpretation of the Medusa story. This new Medusa calls for acknowledgement of male transgression, community blindness and culpability and vindication of wronged women.

More about the stunning illustrations

Medusa at Bloomsbury

Jessie Burton’s website

Olivia Lomenech Gill’s website

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