Galatea by Madeline Miller, which you can find on libris.ro, was sent to me by the lovely people from Libris, for which I am very thankful, and is one of my most anticipated reads of 2022. Additionally, it is the book I knew I had to read (both for its approach to the myth and dimensions) in order to decide whether I will or will not read Circe and The Song of Achilles by the same author – and it definitely is a confirmation of that. Ironically, I am working on translating a book about mythology, so this small morsel came just at the right time. In order to properly pen down the impressions and reactions I had while going through the book, I believe a little bit of context is necessary. It is, as the author herself notes, “a response, almost solely, to Ovid’s version of the Pygmalion myth in the Metamorphoses”. Simply put, the myth revolves around a sculptor who carves an ivory statue that is the representation of his ideal of womanhood and falls in love with her. Consequently, his prayers of Galatea becoming a real woman are heard and answered and the goddess Venus brings the ivory statue to life. Essentially, the myth has a happy ending, with them marrying and having a child; however, it only has a happy ending if you are willing to look beyond certain aspects – that being, misogyny, stereotyping, false images of womanhood and sexism.
The story, being told from Galatea’s perspective, is a response to Pygmalion’s myth, a rather short narrative that feels like a punch in the gut. Without giving away too much, I must mention that it is probably one of the most feminist narrations I read throughout the years as it retells the myth from a totally different – yet not unexpected – perspective. Miller succeeds at conveying a specific tension I haven’t felt in a long time through her approach to the male desire, womanhood and the challenges women have to face because of the objectification they are subjected to. While setting a rather sombre tone, the author manages to hook the reader from the very first lines by avoiding needless descriptions that many others focus on when beginning their stories (which isn’t necessarily a bad aspect!). Hence, her writing is quite lyrical yet very straightforward, and, by adopting such a writing style, she becomes, at least for me, the ideal storyteller. While Miller’s retelling is undeniably indicative of her skilfulness, I’m more in awe of the writing style she approaches and how she juggles with words and structures in such a manner that she succeeds at instilling fear, anger, bitterness and mostly melancholy in the reader’s mind. On the other hand, I found it outstanding that she takes a mythological female character and gives her voice, both disassembling the happy ending of the myth and rewriting it in a feminist manner.
A story of entrapment, desperation and liberation, to a certain degree, written in a manner that outshines most authors I have read, Galatea is without a doubt one of my favourite – if not the favourite – reads of this year. While I assumed it will provide and insight into Miller’s work and whether or not I would enjoy her novels, I certainly didn’t expect the narrative to be so well-written or to have such a great impact. While I’ve read quite a few short narratives in my university years as a literature student, I have to admit that the standards for a great short-story have been raised by Madeline Miller’s work of high literary merit. Therefore, adding Galatea to your reading list is a must as it will have an immense contribution to your reading experience.
Author: Madeline Miller
Publication Date: 2022
Format: Hardcover|56 pages