Anne Daly Reviews Medusa Retold by Sarah Wallis

Review by Anne Daly

Published by Fly on the Wall Press in 2020, Medusa Retold is a refreshing take on the classical myth of the snake-haired monster slain by the hero Perseus. It veers away from the traditional male-centric narrative and gives us a punk princess Medusa figure, Nuala, who navigates a difficult adolescence with all the righteous rage of the original Gorgon.  

I loved how this work updated and got under the skin of the original myth. It is as vibrant and electric as the beautiful jellyfish/medusa of the sea, that recurs as a motif throughout. Wallis cleverly parallels the mythic themes (vengeance, rage, tragedy) with contemporary explorations of gender, sexuality and identity. Nuala’s presence captivates and owns every line, she stomps through this work in her green tutu and glittery Doc Martens and grabs the reader, demanding to be heard. Everyone else is a bit-player, even the intangible Athena whose shadowy presence is felt, like a chess-player moving her pawns. 

Wallis uses language skilfully. It is gentle and hypnotic at times, washing in and out like a wave, at other times strong and jagged like a rock. Nuala’s story is punctuated with excerpts that take us to another world, a dream-soaked landscape slaked in seawater. These breaks, emphasise the otherness of Nuala, her inaccessibility to others.  This is contrasted by the spiky anger of her metaphorical transformation into the furious, murderous monster, which is urgent as a rock-fuelled howl of rage.  Wallis is technically strong, moulding her language in such a way that it feels effortless. 

I could almost brush off the salt of the sea from my skin after reading this book. Wallis captures really well, the ominous presence of the sea in the run-down, claustrophobic sea-side town setting.  Nuala’s affinity with the sea, its cold-blooded creatures, its tenderness, its rage, its vengefulness, saturates everything. Medusa Retold is raw and confrontational. I was intrigued by how it reassessed the figure of Medusa, taking her from the one-dimensional monster handed down to us over the years, exploring her background and the very un-heroic actions of other people that made her the way she was. It touches on the interesting question of whether we are born monsters, with seawater filled hearts, or made monstrous through circumstance. It is a thought-provoking work with depth and scale, a very enjoyable read. 

Learn more from Fly on The Wall Press.

About the author


Sarah Wallis is a poet and playwright based in Scotland, UK. She has had theatrical residencies at Leeds Playhouse and Harrogate Theatre and work performed at places including Hampstead and Hull Truck. Recent poetry is at Beir Bua, The Madrigal, Wine Cellar Press and Spectra Poets and flash fiction has appeared a number of times in Ellipsis, also at Burnt Breakfast and Reflex Fiction. A chapbook, Medusa Retold, is available from @fly_press with Quietus Makes an Eerie now available for pre-orders at Dancing Girl Press and How to Love the Hat Thrower due next year from @SelcouthStation. She tweets @wordweave and you can find out more at sarahwallis.net

Learn more from Fly on The Wall Press.

Published by Michelle Moloney King

Bookish and paintish! Mother, wife, teacher, and follower of flow.

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