Book Review: Stone Blind, Natalie Haynes

”So to mortal men, we are monsters. Because of our flight, our strength. They fear us, so they call us monsters.’

Medusa is the sole mortal in a family of gods. Growing up with her Gorgon sisters, she begins to realize that she is the only one who experiences change, the only one who can be hurt. And her mortal lifespan gives her an urgency that her family will never know.

When the sea god Poseidon commits an unforgivable act in the temple of Athene, the goddess takes her revenge where she can – and Medusa is changed forever. Writhing snakes replace her hair, and her gaze now turns any living creature to stone. The power cannot be controlled: Medusa can look at nothing without destroying it. She is condemned to a life of shadows and darkness.

Until Perseus embarks upon a quest to fetch the head of a Gorgon . . .

A highly entertaining and enjoyable read retelling Medusa’s story, told with Haynes’ trademark wit, erudition and caustic humour – although I wonder whether I come away from the book having learned anything new…

What I Liked

  • The gorgons and the way they changed when Medusa was thrust upon them
  • The unapologetic dislike of Perseus
  • The childish petty squabblings among the Gods
  • The range of narrative voices and points of view including olive trees, snakes, Gods and immortals

What Could Have Been Different

  • More time spent with the characters, letting their voices and person

I love Natalie Haynes since discovering her on BBC Radio 4s Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics which is a sheer delight that I discovered just before lockdown in 2020 and promptly devoured the back catalogue on BBC Sounds. Along with that and her Instgram Ovid not Covid the days of lockdown sped by!

Her novel Stone Blind focusses on Medusa, not the monstrous creature of the Clash of the Titans but the victim of her own parents’ rejection of her, the victim of Poseidon’s rape, the victim of Athena’s rage and pride, the victim of Perseus’ quest… and yet discovering a terrible strength and power in those abuses.

Haynes uses Medusa to explore natures of the monstrous. She opens the novel with the idea:

I see you. I see all those who men call monsters.

And I see the men who call them that. Call themselves heroes, of course.

I only see them for an instant. Then they’re gone.

But it’s enough. Enough to know that the hero isn’t the one who’s kind or brave or loyal. Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – he is monstrous.

And the monster? Who is she? She is what happens when someone cannot be saved.

We first meet Medusa as a helpless babe left with her sister-gorgons Sthenno and Euryale, with their “sharp tusks, their powerful wings, their strong legs: all were designed for the hunt”. The gorgons knew and hoped to hide from Medusa that her parents, the sea gods Phorcys and Ceto, viewed her “as a freak” whose birth had horrified them. From the immortals’ point of view, humanity and mortality is monstrous; the most physically animalistic creatures prove to be the most capable of love and loving; the most handsome and celebrated of humans act horrifically.

The gorgons’ transformation from toying with the idea of eating the mortal (albeit winged) child left at the edge of their cave to caring maternal figures who wept with and for their sister’s pain, to creatures powerful enough to oust a God from their isle was wonderful. And small details – and I do not know whether these details have always existed in the myths or are Haynes’ invention – that, for example, Athene invented the flute in an attempt to recreate the sound of the gorgon’s howls when they discovered Medusa’s body – were so powerful.

There is a genuine delight and pleasure in reading Haynes’ language and she revels in Perseus’ failings and his excesses. His murder of the ethiopian priests and of the wedding party – his marriage to Andromeda exceeds the Red Wedding for its death count – his petty murder of a shepherd and the monstrosity of his killing of Atlas and his cruelty to the Graiai. But at the heart of Perseus villany is his murder of Medusa, a feat that in Haynes’ novel he seeks without a single thought about the consequences or morality of his actions. And a moment that she chooses, courageously and movingly, to describe not from the third person voice that she mainly uses, nor in the voice of Medusa or her sister-Gorgons, but in the choral voices of the snakes of Medusa’s hair. As she states, explicitly and in a narrative voice that could have come straight from Natalie Haynes Stands Up For The Classics,

The idea that Perseus is a hero is one I have taken exception to since – I can’t even tell you how long it is. As long as I’ve known his name.

Structurally, Haynes’ novel features many threads: Medusa and Perseus, Andromeda and Cassiope, Poseidon and Medusa, the Gorgons and Medusa, Athene and Hephaestus, Phorcys and Ceto and Medusa. They do not always seem connected but, not unlike Ovid himself, there is an overarching arc and Haynes expertly weaves those threads together into a vivid tapestry. And that, I hope, is a (possiby over used) metaphor that might appeal to someone who wrote a whole episode of stand up about Penelope’s weaving! Yes some sections – the Gods’ war with the giants for example – felt a little too brief and perfunctory, like loose threads if you like, but the whole was wonderful.

For all the learning that the novel exhibits, and for all the feminism that it champions, there is a great deal of humour and joy in the writing – mainly at Perseus’ expense again. His humiliation at the hands of the Hesperides, for example, was laugh out loud funny.

For me, however much I enjoyed the novel, which I did, I am not sure I came away from it with anything new – I did not see Medusa in any new light because she has always been a victim in my understanding of the mythology. In fact, has not the tattoo of her image been a symbol for survivors of sexual assault for a few years now? For that reason alone, and perhaps it is because I brought too much prior knowledge with me, I do not see this novel as likely to progress any further in the Women’s Prize lists. I shall, however, continue to look out for and lap up more of Haynes’ writing – and I found her as an audiobook narrator really compelling too!

Haynes was born in Birmingham, where she attended King Edward VI High School for Girls.[1] She read Classics at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and was also a member of Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Plot / Pace:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.


Rating: 4 out of 5.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

Page Count:

384 pages




15th September 2022


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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Stone Blind, Natalie Haynes”

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