Thursday, February 9, 2023

"Stone Blind"

Natalie Haynes is the author of several books, including A Thousand Ships, which was a national bestseller and was shortlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction. She has written and recorded eight series of Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics for the BBC.

Haynes applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Stone Blind, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Stone Blind sees us inside a prison cell, focusing on a young woman named Danae. She has been locked up by her paranoid father, Acrisius, because he is convinced that her child will one day kill him. To try and avoid her even becoming pregnant, he has put her in a windowless cell. But on this page, we see that even solid stone walls cannot prevent something fated to happen: the god Zeus takes the form of a shower of gold and rains his way inside. Danae is grateful for the company, and one thing leads to another.

This is a pretty good test for my book - it is indeed full of encounters between gods and mortals, Zeus does very rarely resist defenceless women (although this is a much kinder sexual encounter than some in this book). It’s written in the third person, close to Danae but with a little detachment. There are quite a few narrative voices in this novel, so none can individually represent the whole. Later on there’s a chapter narrated by a crow, and a couple from the perspective of a snooty olive tree.

Page 69 is a scene-setting moment: the child Danae will give birth to is Perseus. His fate and that of Medusa, the book’s focal character, are entwined from the moment they are born. The sense of unavoidable destiny is written into this chapter: Acrisius is determined to stop Danae from even having a child. But of course these measures have no effect on a god. I guess a more representative page would show the gorgons themselves, but this one is a pretty good reflection of how I’ve chosen to tell the story: by always looking for the women in any part of it, and putting them at the centre of that chapter, to see what happens to a myth when your switch your attention from the men who have so often been the focus of myth retellings onto the women who are just as integral, but have tended to be relegated to the edges of the stories. This has been much truer in the (relatively) modern world than the ancient one - Ovid, Euripides etc had no problem putting women at the heart of a narrative. My technique is to try and reconnect with those versions and find a way to make them new.
Visit Natalie Haynes's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Furies.

My Book, The Movie: The Furies.

The Page 69 Test: A Thousand Ships.

--Marshal Zeringue