Galatea – a Short Story by Madeline Miller

by Team Riverside
book cover of Galatea

Hardback, Bloomsbury, £6.99, out now

This is an excellent new short story from the author of Circe and The Song of Achilles.  I’ve not read those yet but I will do now, having read Galatea.

Galatea is being kept a virtual prisoner in hospital on the wishes of her husband, with the complicity of the medical staff.  Her husband, a sculptor, created her out of stone to be his perfect woman: compliant, beautiful, and with no will or wishes of her own.  But Galatea is developing a secret plan for her own freedom, and that of her young daughter Paphos.

The story is Miller’s response to Ovid’s telling of the Pygmalion myth: “…others (myself included) have been disturbed by the deeply misogynist implications of the story.  Pygmalion’s happy ending is only happy if you accept a number of repulsive ideas: that the only good woman is one who has no self beyond pleasing a man, the fetishization of female sexual purity, the connection of ‘snowy’ ivory with perfection, the elevation of male fantasy over female reality”.

Miller offers a sharp take on abuse and control in relationships, and specifically men’s control of, and ideas about, women.  As Galatea says: “The thing is, I don’t think my husband expected me to be able to talk”. 

Accordingly here, some of the content is challenging.  This is appropriate given the subject.  I don’t always find fiction with mythical or fantasy elements convincing, but the ease and confidence with which this is written makes Galatea feel very real.  I felt like Galatea herself was demanding that I witness her struggle, her cleverness, and her courage.

Issued in a beautiful small blue hardback form, it would make a great gift for the right person.  I immediately reread it on finishing and it was even better the second time around.  A vital read.

Review by Bethan

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