Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: fantasy; mythology; short stories; retellings; historical fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) In Ancient Greece, a skilled marble sculptor has been blessed by a goddess who has given his masterpiece – the most beautiful woman the town has ever seen – the gift of life. Now his wife, Galatea is expected to be obedience and humility personified, but it is not long before she learns to use her beauty as a form of manipulation. In a desperate bid by her obsessive husband to keep her under control, she is locked away under the constant supervision of doctors and nurses. But with a daughter to rescue, she is determined to break free, whatever the cost…
Review: 4 stars.
I think it’s safe to say at this point that I’d read anything Miller writes. She’s written two of my favorite books of all time — you can read my review of Song of Achilles HERE and my review of Circe HERE — and I’m a Classics nerd. While I didn’t jump on the Percy Jackson train, I can appreciate what it did for the genre. Miller takes a more sophisticated approach to myth retellings though, and it’s just brilliant.
Galatea is very different though. If I think of her work thus far on a continuum, in terms of her readership, it reminds me a lot of JK Rowling’s writing. Like, with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, that book was clearly YA, meant for children around Harry’s age, but by Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix, that YA line was very blurred. So much of what Harry was going through in (arguably) 4-7 were ADULT.
Galatea was much of the same. While Galatea is not connected to Song of Achilles or Circe, I think her writing style has evolved with each text. Song of Achilles seemed very YA, even if it isn’t marketed as such on Goodreads. It’s a quick read, lower lexile, all that, and it’s soft and sweet and kind.
And then with Circe, Miller’s writing is harder. And maybe that’s because Circe’s story is harder, but Circe’s feminist eye is open so it’s kind of reaffirming, and the Odyssey tale is so much more charged because of it. Guys. Circe was one of two books that made me change how I rate books. (Internment was the other in case you’re wondering.) That’s how beautiful I thought it was. But like, Miller’s style seemed to evolve in my opinion. A more adult audience required, sort of thing.
And then there’s Galatea (see this is definitely a Galatea review). This is definitely an adult short story. (Less than a 30 minute read for most readers, I’d say). This Pygmalion retelling is not beautiful and sweet or hard and reaffirming. This is tragic and difficult. Right out the jump there’s fuck and confusion, and a woman in a hospital being told to lie down, and a nurse who doesn’t seem to listen.
And later, Galatea tells the reader that if she doesn’t play the game (listen to the orders of her doctors) they’ll give her a tea that stops her tongue from working and makes her piss the bed.
This is not beautiful, but it is really, really good. It has something to say. At its core, almost, as a reminder. The Pygmalion myth is a good reminder about how men are rarely satisfied, and Galatea brings that right to the forefront in such a cutting way.
Again, I’m left breathless, waiting for her next text. Fingers crossed that it’s Medusa. Especially after some of the undertones here, I think it would be a perfect transition.