Galatea by Madeline Miller

Although I found Circe less mind-blowing than I did The Song of Achilles, I will still follow Madeline Miller anywhere. I was very excited about this new book, which is labeled as a short story, but packaged as a freestanding little hardback. The story is very short – just 50 pages plus an afterword.

50 little tiny pages

According to Wikipedia, “Galatea is a name popularly applied to the statue carved of ivory by Pygmalion of Cyprus, which then came to life in Greek mythology.” In Ovid’s version of the myth, in Metamorphoses (which Miller indicates is “almost solely” her source for this work), she does not have a name. Pygmalion is a sculptor so horrified by real, live women that he can only be happy with the ivory statue of one he creates for himself, in perfection and perfect, chaste silence; he prays to Venus for her to come alive, and she does, to bear him a child but (in Ovid’s telling) to remain silent and modest. (Delightfully, and disturbingly, in the poem “Pygmalion’s Bride” by Carol Ann Duffy in The World’s Wife, she defeats his sexual advances by pretending to reciprocate them.)

Here, Miller gives us Galatea’s first-person voice from the hospital room where she is institutionalized, imprisoned, on Pygmalion’s orders. He visits in order to fetishize and rape her. Having born him a daughter and seen how limited their child’s life will be with such a domineering, misogynistic father, Galatea has tried to escape him and save her daughter, but so far failed. When he tells her what his latest project is, however, she tries again.

In Miller’s writing, Galatea’s voice is lyrical and grim. “The door closed, and the room swelled around me like a bruise.” She handles her husband’s abuses with an impassive stoicism that reads as strength rather than stoniness, because she feels strongly toward her daughter (and hides well her disgust with Pygmalion). She is brave, clever, and grandly terrible, worth of Greek myth and the empowerment we want for her. This is a brief but powerful triumphant retelling of an upsetting myth. Miller is awesome and I will preorder anything she writes. Go read it now.


Rating: 8 cups of tea.

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