By the Book - Literary Life Lessons

Stranded – Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

Mythical retellings are all the rage - but not every character deserves one.

What is your favourite Greek myth? It’s not that weird a question these days. Retellings of Classical myths, especially from a female point of view, are all the rage. In fact, they’ve got their own category in most bookshops, sitting snugly between poetry and modern classics. This week, I finished Ariadne by Jennifer Saint, about the woman who saved Theseus from the clutches of the Minotaur by giving him a piece of thread. But does she deserve her own story? Read on!

Unsurprisingly, Ariadne is about Ariadne, a princess from Crete. Her brother is the Minotaur, the monstrous half-human/half-bull creature that eats everything it encounters. When Theseus, the great Athenian hero, shows up, Ariadne decides to help him kill her brother. She runs away with him, but he leaves her on the island of Naxos, only to marry her sister Phaedra. Thankfully, Naxos is the home of Dionysus, the beautiful and friendly God of Wine, and they fall in love. However, it turns out that her husband Dionysus, like Theseus, he has some dark secrets, too.

Every story starts with a single thread. Jennifer Saint’s was the story of Ariadne, who is remembered because of the two men in her life, the hero Theseus and the god Dionysus. Saint decided to weave a new story for Ariadne, one in which she has her own voice. Over the years, I’ve read many of these Classical retellings, from different points of view; a hilarious one, a couple that focused on feminism, and one was concerned with the idea of ownership, both personal and literary. Ariadne, however, didn’t feel like it really had a point of view – and the image Saint tried to put together felt a bit vague.

What I need in a retelling is a new approach to an ancient story – like applying a new technique to an old form of art. This one was exactly the opposite, since it seemed like Saint was using an old vehicle in order to tell a modern story. Ariadne, instead of sounding like a modern hero in Ancient Greece, feels like the typical Millennial woman; she tries to balance her own life with her family, and, most importantly, has quite an unfortunate taste in men. Ariadne reads more like a modern romcom than a retelling of an ancient myth.

While reading Ariadne, I kept feeling there was nothing truly mythical about this book. Granted, the names are the same, and the stories about King Minos, the famous Theseus, and the crafty Daedalus were all there. However, it didn’t feel authentic. Let’s return to the single piece of thread that is needed in order to tell a story. Somehow, it felt like Saint used many different ones, and sometimes she got lost in them.

What one must always bear in mind when reading a retelling, is that every single book is shaped by the author. Ariadne is told from the point of view of two women; Ariadne, who is happiest when she takes care of her family, and her sister Phaedra. One of her biggest issues is that she wants to be a unique individual, and she hates having a family. It seemed as though Saint picked these two very opposing pieces of string and desperately tried to bring them together.

This is the worst part of Ariadne: the titular character doesn’t have much personality, while her sister seems to have too much. Ariadne gives up her life for Theseus, cries about him when he leaves her, and then falls straight in the arms of Dionysus. Unlike her sister, she is perfectly content with being nothing more than a mother and a wife. She deliberately turns a blind eye to her husband’s nocturnal activities – even when his hordes of female worshippers return every night with their clothes all bloody. And suddenly, at the end of the novel, she turns into stone, having done nothing to make a name for herself.

In conclusion, Jennifer Saint could have woven such a rich tapestry, with beautiful colours, depicting the ancient story but using modern technologies to make it even more striking. However, there is nothing modern about Ariadne’s story – nor is there anything that feels Ancient Greek.

It’s all a bit tangled, unfortunately.

What did you think of Ariadne? Does a person who seems to embody such old-fashioned values deserve a retelling? And, to return to the first question I asked: what, actually, is your favourite Greek myth? Do let me know in the comments! Also, don’t forget to follow me for more book-related posts!

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