I’ve been following Ioanna Papadopoulou on Twitter for quite some time now, and I know how passionate she is about mythology, folklore and her Greek heritage. I also knew she was working on what she called “a dark retelling” of the myth of Demeter, and I knew I was going to buy the book because […]
I’ve been following Ioanna Papadopoulou on Twitter for quite some time now, and I know how passionate she is about mythology, folklore and her Greek heritage. I also knew she was working on what she called “a dark retelling” of the myth of Demeter, and I knew I was going to buy the book because that’s what you do, right? If you admire someone, you support their work.
I expected the book to be good.
I expected it to be one of the many novels I keep at the back of my non-fiction reading list.
I was very very wrong.
I’m not fond of retellings, you know? I understand why people like them, they’re a source of comfort in times of crisis, but they’re usually not up my alley because my attention drifts and I get bored very easily. Well, this is not a retelling. It’s a compelling, intricate and complex psychological background to the Greek myths concerning Demeter, starting from her very birth and the moment she sees the light… only to be swallowed whole by her father Chronos.
Though often banalized, the source material is complex and layered, and neck-deep in stuff we usually do not see in our novels, from casual incest to rape, but the author has an arrow in her quiver: she’s a fucking historian. And historians are not afraid.
This book is going to treat you with some bold storytelling, and it’s immediately clear from a neat prologue in which Demeter sharply analyses the possible reason why she let her “little brother” Zeus have his way with her. It takes a new level of bold to start a novel where the whole first section has the characters swallowed in the dark, learning their powers and creating relationships only through physical and divine touches. It takes even more courage to avoid romanticisation entirely, and make this a story of how women achieve, lose and have to fight for power in a society controlled by men, without turning the novel into an anachronistic feminist manifesto.
Demeter’s reasons are always rooted in the way her world works and, when she tries to change it, she has to do so within the system: the possibility of breaking out entirely never occurs to her, because it’s that very same system that gives her power. 3000 years have passed since men were spinning stories of this goddess to explain their world. Ioanna takes those stories, weaves them together, and all of a sudden she lifts a tapestry where we can see ourselves and our own, complicated struggle, with the abusive systems of our time.
A stunning work, worthy of every praise.
A similar version of this review is on Goodreads.