Elektra by Jennifer Saint

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Elektra by Jennifer Saint

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Alex Merrick
Reviewed by Alex Merrick
Summary: Women have been subjugated throughout myths and legends. However, a recent crop of female novelists have begun reframing these stories from a female perspective. In Elektra, Jennifer Saint masterfully retells the Trojan War from the perspective of three women whose lives are irrevocably changed by the actions of the men around them.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: April 2022
Publisher: Wildfire
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1472293947

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'Elektra' by Jennifer Saint tells the story of three women who live in the heavily male dominated world of Ancient Greece. Cassandra, Clytemnestra, and Elektra are all bit players in the story of the Trojan War. Yet Jennifer Saint shows us that often the silent women have the most compelling stories and the most extreme furies.

Misogyny is dead! Long Live Feminism! These are words that strike a chord throughout the world right now, let alone male dominated Ancient Greece. However, misogynistic violence and inequalities are still rife across the globe, whether it is femicide in Central America or the tampon tax in the EU. Fourth Wave feminism, which began in 2012, has helped bring to light horrific sexual violence mainly perpetuated by men in positions of power against women. This caused a tidal wave of movements across the globe within many different sectors.

Women are beginning to chip away at the male dominated spheres such as publishing. In the US, female authors were responsible for 42 percent of unit sales for the top 100 books in the overall print book market in 2019—up from 30 percent in 2010. Amongst these novels are a niche that has become more prevalent, that of the retellings of Greek Myths from the female perspective. Authors such as Pat Barker, Madeline Miller, Margaret Atwood and of course Jennifer Saint have all retold stories that put the female characters front and centre. These feminist authors want us to remove our rose-tinted glasses and understand that the rose tint was caused by the blood of innocent people and especially innocent women.

Jennifer Saint's new novel "Elektra" is primarily about vengeance and the many ways humans justify vengeance and how it ruins lives. Each woman: Clytemnestra, Cassandra and Elektra have reasons to pursue vengeance through violent means and Saint shows that violence begets violence. Clytemnestra, a sister of Helen of Troy, marries Agamemnon, who is a member of the House of Atreus. This house is known to be cursed due to the amount of familial murder and vengeance that blights its branches. Georgios husband of Elektra, who is Agamemnon and Clytemnestra's daughter, puts it succinctly when he says of her family there's a terrible crime, unbearable pain and then the lashing out of vengeance, and then it all begins again. It has been proven in multiple studies including one by Carlsmith and Gilbert that revenge, rather than providing closure, does the opposite, it keeps the wound open and fresh. Saint masterfully illustrates that vengeance, in any context, is quite often not worth it.

The fact Saint has three female main characters is perhaps a reference to The Furies of Greek Myths. The Furies or Erinyes are three chthonic deities of vengeance. The Iliad invokes them as the Erinyes, that under earth take vengeance on men, whosoever hath sworn a false oath. In Elektra, Saint describes them as the snake-haired Erinyes with their baleful eyes and their unquestionable desire for revenge. Revenge does not become the Erinyes and revenge will not heal the wounds that have been inflicted on Clytemnestra, Elektra or Cassandra.

Cassandra is an outlier; she is not related to Clytemnestra or Elektra and her story lies across the sea in the city of Troy. However, her story resonates now more than ever. Cassandra was sexually assaulted by Apollo in his temple. She spurned his advances and thus was cursed to utter true prophecies, but never to be believed. The Crime Survey for England and Wales for the years ending March 2017 and March 2020 combined showed that fewer than one in six victims of sexual assault (16%) had reported it to the police. A quarter of victims thought the police would not believe them. Cassandra embodies this statistic. Her character and story illustrate the disempowerment sexual violence has on its victims. The world is beyond recognition; the landscape of our life torn up, all of it at once familiar and strange. Even though this life shattering event has happened, the victim still must continue with their life. They have so much to be angry about, like Cassandra. However, her anger and vengeance is turned inwards. She does not try and seek vengeance against Apollo or the other perpetrators of sexual and misogynistic violence. Saint convincingly highlights how this inward anger and torture can be as harmful as outright vengeance.

All nonviolent ways of dealing with misogynistic violence are valid. However, some victims resort to more harmful means than others. Clytemnestra and Elektra become consumed by the prospect of vengeance until they are willing to give up everything else to satisfy their pain. Hatred and anger are all consuming. Then, as now, male dominance and masculinity have created a society where the victims of sexual violence are seen as weaker, damaged or in some way at fault. A classic example of this would be Medusa who, after being raped by Zeus, was turned into a monster by Hera in a jealous rage. These myths under the guise of "Classics" have reinforced the damaging norms our society has around sexual violence and its victims. We can shift this narrative though, and we are, as Jennifer Saint has shown. All it takes is one reimagining at a time.

If you want to read more retellings of Greek Myths, read Dido by Adele Geras.

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