Today dear readers I am reviewing Medusa Retold (Published December 1st 2020) By Sarah Wallis. A big thank you to the publishers Fly On The Wall Press for sending me a copy to review, always appreciated.
A feminist retelling of the Medusa myth, set in a run-down, modern seaside town, Medusa Retold is filled with the magic and fury of the original tale. In this telling, loner Nuala is difficult and introverted, fascinated by creatures of the sea. Athena becomes her best friend and first crush, and together they form a duo which is ripped apart by circumstance, leaving Nuala unprotected, unable to save herself. A long-form poem of poignant motifs which recur throughout, the poem is a mythic puzzle, an epic for ordinary girls, and a love letter to the sea.
About The Author
Sarah Wallis is a poet and playwright based in Scotland. She has an MA in Creative Writing from UEA and an Mphil in Playwriting from Birmingham University. Theatrical residencies include Leeds Playhouse and Harrogate Theatre. Her stagework includes Laridae and work for Leeds Fringe including The Scarecrow Child and A Stage of One’s Own.
Recent publications include The Interpreter’s House, Selcouth Station, Thimble and Ellipsis with work forthcoming from Lunate, Eyewear – Best New British & Irish Poets 2019 -20 – and her chapbook from Fly on the Wall Press, Medusa Retold is out in December 2020.
I love reading about Greek myths, they are intriguing and extremely imaginative with the number of beasts and foes you encounter along the way. I was curious by the outline of this chapbook, a modern age retelling of the Medusa myth in poetry form. I couldn’t wait to get stuck in.
Medusa in Wallis’ poetry is named Nuala who lives in a slightly run down sea town. Nuala has always been different ever since she was a child and is fascinated with sea creatures. One of her first memories is of protecting a jellyfish. With her father gone it is just Nuala and her mother Cathleen, no Gorgon sisters in this tale. I found this highlighted just how isolated and alone Nuala feels as she grows up throughout the chapbook. She looks to cold-blooded reptiles for comfort, scales and forked tongues surround her and give the chilling resemblance of the famous snake-haired lady.
Greek mythology has taught us throughout the ages to see Medusa as a monster. What Wallis does brilliantly in her poetry is expose the vulnerability and fragility that Medusa has within Nuala. She is a loner and her only friend is Athena who is also her first crush and bandmate. The band won’t let her sing so she takes to drumming instead, her dreads flying all over the place as she loses herself in the rhythm. Athena quickly becomes impressed and soon Nuala takes charge kicking out the rest of the band leaving them a duo. Their sound begins to change and soon bookings become frequent. Now everyone wants to be her friend. And Nuala must decide if she wants to be one of them or work on revenge. Then one day on a school scuba-diving trip disaster strikes which tears Athena and Nuala apart. The impact of this tragedy releases a rage within Nuala that spirals out of control and attacks anyone that dare cross her path. She becomes reborn. People fear to look at her. With a perforated eardrum from the accident, Nuala’s world is now full of water that helps pull her down, deep into her own dark world. She is extremely misunderstood as anyone who experiences what she does would feel the same. Unfortunately this downward spiral becomes Nuala’s undoing. From reading about her life growing up the reader can sympathise with Nuala and understand why she lashes out.
The imagery throughout this chapbook was astonishing, I loved it! The tangle of tentacles on the sand as a jellyfish is brutally killed sent shivers down my spine. Images of long dreaded hair whipping around in the air as Nuala drummed hypnotised me. My head was full of snakes, and shedding, all wriggling over the page giving new life and meaning to Medusas myth. Many people fear what they do not understand. A child with a love for sea creatures such as jellyfish is viewed by the townspeople as odd and in turn begin to fear the abnormal. Cathleen is embarrassed and can feel the snake eyes on her as she drags Nuala away from the scene. She hopes one day her daughter will come back to her side. I could hear the waves and feel the sand beneath my toes as I read this empowering chapbook. I wanted to jump in and show the townspeople that there was nothing to fear, I was desperate for Nuala to be accepted for who she was.
I enjoyed reading Wallis’ portrayal of a modern day Medusa and could envision her stomping about the beach wearing a sea-green tutu and purple glitter Doc Martens. She is headstrong and determined which makes her a hero in my eyes, not a villain. I also appreciated how cleverly Wallis swapped out the snakes and replaced with jellyfish. In Italian jellyfish are known as Medusa which makes sense, a head full of long serpent creatures perfectly describes a jellyfish. It’s creative and I loved seeing all the references and easter eggs that Wallis left behind in her poetry for fans of the myth to discover.
I give Medusa Retold By Sarah Wallis a Five out of Five paw rating
This tragic, heartbreaking tale is one that will tempt you to relook again at the dreaded fate of Medusa. In the myth she goes from monster to protecter as her head is placed upon a shield. However I feel it is Medusa, Nuala who is the one that needs protecting from the cruel hands of fate and judging piercing eyes that deemed her an outcast because she sang to a different tune. She was never a monster and always a fierce protector of those she loved. Truly a tragic tale dear reader, you might need some tissues for this one…it is emotional.
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