Jennifer Saint's new novel Ariadne brings to life ancient Greek mythology

  • Ariadne, by Jennifer Saint. Wildfire, $32.99.

Ariadne, Jennifer Saint's debut novel, takes ancient myth and breathes new life into it.

Told from the perspectives of Ariadne and her younger sister Phaedra, this is an exciting and moving book, charting the lives of two women in a world ruled by ambitious men and selfish Gods.

The novel starts on Crete, where the minotaur, a half-human creature born to Ariadne's mother and a bull, is used to proclaim King Minos's power.

Sacrificial youths are sent from Athens as bull fodder.

The inclusion of Theseus in the group, handsome and heroic, catches both the sisters' attention and leads them to take action.

There is, however, no major place for women in the hero's tale, and Ariadne is side-lined.

Phaedra is caught up in a strategic bargain, with no say as to her fate.

Throughout the novel, female characters are shown as the means by which the Gods punish men who have offended them.

Poseidon punishes Minos through driving his wife mad, leading to her disgrace, and Dionysus's mortal mother is killed at Hera's instigation, as revenge for Zeus's infidelity.

Women's suffering is of no importance.

Saint has taken the fairly bleak world of Greek myth and created characters who speak of their fears, hopes and joys.

Both sisters are aware of the limited options that face them, and both try and steer a course for themselves.

A possibly different way of living with the Gods who usually seem to delight in human pain is embodied in the figure of Dionysus, but whether the order of things is open to change, or set in stone, is revealed as the book progresses.

It is interesting to see how cleverly Saint embroiders the fabric of the ancient stories.

That makes things sound a little too remote, for the reader is fully engaged in the life story of Ariadne and her sister, as individual characters caught up in events which they can not control.

It is a reweaving of the tales, rather than mere decoration, that is achieved here.

Certainly, it is not necessary to have any knowledge of Greek mythology to enjoy the book.

In placing the stories of women at the centre of her novel, and in describing the blinkered indifference of those itching to be heroes, Saint has created a rich and engrossing book.

Ariadne is a strong representation of how women may end up as collateral damage in the power plays of others.

Some themes never seem to go past their use-by date.

  • Penelope Cottier writes poetry as PS Cottier.
This story A feminist retelling of ancient myth of Ariadne first appeared on The Canberra Times.