Book Review – Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

books, reviews

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

This recent trend of feminist rewritings of myths and legends isn’t going away any time soon. It feels like every single book being published at the moment is based on some poor figure in Greek mythology. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for it but do we need quite so many at the same time? People regularly moan about the lack of originality i the film industry but what of publishing? It feels as though the only books getting a green light right now are either mythology retellings or cosy crime. Flooding the market with these types of books just means that quality declines. Yes, The Song of Achilles was great but not everything can be the same. Ariadne is one of those books that I’ve heard so many good things about. Although, it was also nominated for a GoodReads award in 2021 which is often a worrying sign. I was interested to see what it would be like but also kind of scared to start it. This week, I finally took the plunge.

It’s well known that women got a raw deal in Greek mythology. There are so many examples of women being horribly treated by Gods and mortals alike for no real reason. You can see why so many writers would want to take on the task of rewriting their stories with a feminist slant. Ariadne sounded like a really exciting concept. Jennifer Saint was going to give a voice to some of the forgotten women in one of the most famous myths. It retells the story of Theseus and the minotaur but takes the focus away from the great hero. Instead, we get to see how it affected Ariadne and her sister Phaedra. The pair are princesses of Crete and the daughters of King Minos. They are also the half-sisters of the horrific minotaur trapped in Daedalus’s labyrinth. Every year, 14 youths travel from Athens to Crete so they can be offered as a sacrifice to the Minotaur. It’s a practice that Ariadne and Phaedra are happy to ignore until the arrival of Theseus. Ariadne instantly falls in love with the Prince of Athens. By helping him kill the monster, she ends up betraying her father and homeland.

Of course, Ariadne isn’t allowed her happily ever after. The life she imagines when she flees Crete in the night doesn’t come to fruition. Instead, it confirms that women are just pawns for powerful men and immortal beings. This isn’t a new concept for Ariadne as her own mother suffered because of a God’s vendetta. Not only did this result in the birth of the minotaur but it meant that Pasiphaë was the subject of court gossip. When she and Phaedra are young, they hear the story of Medusa. A young woman who was raped by Poseidon in Athena’s temple. Rather than the God seeing any consequences, Athena turned Medusa into a Gorgon. This story is part of Ariadne’s feminist reawakening. She sees very clearly that women are always going to be second-class citizens. It’s a story that she regularly thinks back to throughout her life.

When you promise a feminist retelling of such a well know story, you should make sure your novel packs a punch. This book was lacking punch. It’s not that I disagreed with anything that was being said but I wish it had gone a bit further. Overall, the book felt a bit confused. In some places, it was too basic. Parts of the book attempt to emulate The Song of Achilles but it lacks charm. Ariadne also wants to sit alongside great feminist literature but it lacks an original perspective. It’s nothing that we haven’t seen before and, more importantly, done better. This was a book that promised to give a voice to the overlooked Ariadne. Did it do that? To some extent. I still don’t think this book lived up to its potential. The character could have been taken further. We don’t get much more insight into this young woman or here actions.

Ariadne is a pleasant book to read but it’s not a particularly memorable one. The story dragged on a bit. If I hadn’t been listening to the audiobook, I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to finish. I doubt I’d have been keen to pick it up every night. The writing was fine. It wasn’t particularly inspiring but it also wasn’t dreadful. Yes, we do encounter the classic “let go of a breath I didn’t know I was holding” but that’s not enough to say this is bad writing. It’s just not very exciting writing either. I was hoping for something lyrical and beautiful but Ariadne is just quite simple. I had such high expectations for this book but it just didn’t deliver. Rather than being a feminist rewriting of the Theseus myth, Ariadne is a feminist analysis of it. The character of Ariadne doesn’t have any real agency here. Instead, she thinks a lot about how terrible women have it in her society. And the ending doesn’t seem to fit with the feminist idea. Unless I missed something, it feels more like a warning against women taking action. It’s weird.

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