Book Review: Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes

The legend of Medusa is one that is known to most Western readers, I imagine. A hideous and fearsome monster. A Gorgon with snakes instead of hair who turns all who gaze upon her into stone. In Stone Blind, Natalie Haynes opens this legend up, showing us who Medusa is from birth, the curse that turns her into a so-called-monster, all while making her reader question what exactly defines a monster or a hero?

Some followers here may recall that not long ago I reviewed Hayne’s retelling of the aftermath of the Trojan War, A Thousand Ships, and stated, “I’m oversaturated by re-tellings of Greek myths”. I did not plan to go on and read another book by Haynes, especially so soon. I was drawn in, however, when Stone Blind was 1) longlisted for the Women’s Fiction Prize and 2) readily available at my local library. Two of my weaknesses. I was fully prepared to drop the book unfinished if I didn’t like it but I quickly found myself drawn in.

One thing that worked better for me this time was that I read this book in physical form whereas I listened to A Thousand Ships. I didn’t love Haynes’ narration of her own novel and felt like the story dragged in an audio format. Both books have fairly short chapters that feel rather like vignettes and, I realize, that’s a style that works best for me if I can read it in bits and pieces throughout my day.

But what really worked for me here was that Stone Blind has a much tighter focus. While A Thousand Ships takes the ambitious task of telling the story of basically all the women connected to the Trojan War, Stone Blind is primarily focused on Medusa and her story. Oh, we have lots of other characters. Like A Thousand Ships each chapter focuses on a different character; we follow along with Perseus as he embarks on his quest. We meet Andromeda and Cassiope and we see quite a lot of the interplay of the gods, particularly Athene. But Medusa is the heart of the story and Haynes skillfully nurtures her up from a helpless baby to a curious young woman to…well, what you call her at the end might depend on you.

I still want to say that I’m not going to jump to read another myth re-telling anytime soon but I probably shouldn’t make any promises and I am glad I read this book as I enjoyed it far more than I expected. If you are new to Haynes’ writing, I would say, start here.

6 thoughts on “Book Review: Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes”

  1. It’s funny how some writers are just awful at reading their own work in s beautiful out rhythmic way.

    I always liked Medusa’s story because it’s the ultimate “hell hath no fury” tale, though she wasn’t scorned.

    1. I like the idea of the author reading their own work because it seems like that would be the best way to hear the story as it was intended. But clearly not always the case.

      From what I know, this sticks to the action of the myth pretty closely but gives a lot of character development and relationship building that makes it quite a tender story overall.

  2. I read A Thousand Ships with my (now defunct) book club, and although I enjoyed it as I was reading my main memory of it now is of all the grumbling from the other book club members, who universally hated it. I think that probably would have put me off trying another of her books – however, as a child I was fascinated and terrified by the story of Medusa, and it has stayed with me, so I am quite tempted by this.

    1. The tighter focus here works far better in my opinion. And she really makes Medusa into a character you care about which I think is impressive. If you at al enjoyed A Thousand Ships then I think you would like this even more!

  3. I find the undertaking of any re-writing of a famous Greek myth is an ambitious project for any writer – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Glad you took a chance and revisited this writer; and it paid off!

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