Book Review

BookSpotlight: Galatea by Madeline Miller

Synopsis in under 100: If I give you a 100-word synopsis, that’d be more or less the whole piece. It’s a 20-page novella about Galatea, the marble statue come to life and creation of Pygmalion. The reader is thrown in medias res of their relationship, and it is a brutal one. Usually the story focuses on Pygmalion, but Miller’s protagonist is the created woman and gives a fresh perspective on her view of springing to life, as opposed to being born.

Review: I immediately turned to Galatea after finishing Circe because I couldn’t get enough of Miller’s writing style (Circe review). I was honestly shocked at finding it was a short story – which wasn’t until the very end and I was pissed that there wasn’t more! I guess I should’ve realized because the price tag for a kindle download was small, or I should’ve read closer to the synopsis? But I didn’t; I just knew it was Miller and I was gung-ho.

Galatea is a haunting piece surrounding domestic violence (which is not explicit) and I found the residual feelings lingering over me, even now, months after I’ve read it.

I read a few reviews for this piece, and a few folks don’t care to be thrown into the setting willy nilly. I didn’t either at first, to be fair. However, it reads kind of like a victim of abuse – there are snippits of the world that come clear, that we remember vividly, but can also reveal themselves in the middle of action, with a lack of context, again confusing the reality of the event. Simply having this piece begin in media res lends the story as a whole a feeling of authenticity and believably. Perhaps this is what struck me most.

Even though I’m a big Greek Mythology fan, and I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve come across Galatea as an owned person. Granted, it’s also the first time she is the narrator. The biggest confrontation I had with this piece is realizing, for however old this story is, it’s felt natural for us to focus on Pygmalion. I mean, why wouldn’t we? He’s the creator, obviously the actor, and she is the created, the object. I don’t have it in me at the moment to express my feminist outrage, but please know it’s there and I’m kicking myself as well for not thinking more critically in my younger years.

The fact Galatea has a child was surprising. Again, no previous rendition allowed her the ability to create her own life (that’s a double meaning, my feminist friends). I was startled and overwhelmed with satisfaction – what a beautiful twist on a legend. Although the child is not described well, and indeed none of the characters in the novella are explicitly referred to by name, the reader gets a sense of absolute connection between mother and daughter. There’s no one in this world more precious to her than the one who loves her purely and without having to justify that love.

Galatea says Pygmalion “is rich because of me… but he doesn’t like it when I say that. He says it’s the goddess’ gift first, and then his own since he was the one who made me from the marble.” Pygmalion loves her because she is his not because he understands love. Thus, domestic violence ensues.

The moment Galatea leaves, I think, should tell more about the reader than the author or the characters themselves. The cold ending, her wading into the ocean – into oblivion? into escape? Is it a metaphor or a reality? Does Galatea commit suicide or commit herself to a life beyond the shores of her homeland?

Me, personally, I’m a dark, cynical person and settled on suicide. However, I’ve left the finality on the fence – she retains some of her stone aspects, so does she need to breathe? Could she walk across the ocean floor without the need to breathe and get wherever she’s determined to go?

I like this teetering and have yet to answer it. For me, the story isn’t completely at its end. The ending-non-ending enhances the overall effect of Miller’s writing, left me wanting more of the story. But we don’t always get what we want, clearly that’s what the whole novella is about, but we can make choices if we have the strength to chose and the patience to time them just right.

And ultimately, it is not a man’s place to choose for us. We have to own our autonomy, because “anyway, [they do] not know what women [look] like,” neither physically, spiritually, emotionally, or psychically. As chilling a narrative it is, this piece is also a rock solid fuck all to the patriarchy.

Five stars, let your daughters read it. If they get angry, answer their questions honestly.

2 thoughts on “BookSpotlight: Galatea by Madeline Miller”

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