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Elektra: An Interwoven Tale of Restitution and Tragedy

Mothball reviews Jennifer Saint’s newest Greek myth retelling, ‘Elektra.’

Review of Jennifer Saint’s Elektra

As a single woman rips apart the fabric of stability in a world on the brink of war, we follow the perspectives of three women in their plight for recognition, revenge, and restitution. Elektra from Jennifer Saint is a beautiful retelling of a tragic story. Though the legend of Helen of Troy is a well-recognized myth, we gain a revisited and broadened viewpoint of the precursor, the war, and the fallout through the lens of Clytemnestra, Cassandra, and Elektra. 

I prefer to go into books blind. Like, I-didn’t-read-the-last-Harry-Potter-because-someone-spoiled-it-for-me blind. Luckily, my memory is about as long as a moth’s lifespan (poor). So, for me, mythology retellings are a goldmine. The rich beginnings of good storytelling are found in myths–grandiose gestures and feats, polarizing characters and character flaws, tragedy and heartbreak galore. Getting to read those stories hashed out in a modern take is peak delight for me. I understand not all of you are goldfish, but boy are you in for a treat if you’re not familiar with this mythos prior to reading. In fact, I recommend going in blind like me (if at all possible). 

This is my first Jennifer Saint endeavor, despite already owning Ariadne (thanks BOTM), and now I’ll be bumping it up in my reading list after finishing Elektra. On a similar thread, this is not my first Greek myth retelling (Circe, Madeline Miller) or a Greek myth retelling mirror (Piranesi, Susanna Clarke). I’m very fond of this trope in modern literature and have a number of titles that fall within that category on my TBR. So, to those of you out there that enjoy those types of reads, you’ll want to add this to your list.

Saint cleverly crafted a different light on a well–known myth through this retelling. She does an incredible job resituating our thoughts and biases towards the great Trojan War by stitching together multiple viewpoints and relevant tales of the before and after the war. We are given the context-heavy origin story and lead-up to how the Spartan twins, Helen and Clytemnestra, became nestled in the claws of such a tragic story. Their lives are laid out before us chronologically; from their marriages to Menelaus and Agamemnon, Clytemnestra’s departure from Sparta and the curses that haunt her new family, and the catalyst of sorrow for a young mother. Subsequently, we gain insight to how the war affects the three women we follow and how their ideals and emotions are both one with each other and simultaneously separate. Each woman is equally motivated with different proposed solutions to their strife. 

In fact, that may be my favorite aspect to Jennifer Saint’s version of Elektra. We’re shown the POV of the “side” characters and it changes our gut reactions to who is “good” and “bad” through the context of their lives, not just a moment within them. In honesty, I feel they’re even more rich in tragedy and determination than the well-worn tale of Helen. And through this shift in perspective, Saint weaves a grand and detailed tapestry, depicting not only the relationship that Clytemnestra and Cassandra have with Helen, but a new shine of light into her demeanor as well as her ethereal beauty and poise (and the vulnerable times when she is not either). 

The beauty in the imagery that lies before us in the book feels similar to Greco-Roman painting; a breathtaking clash of color, detail, mood, and drama. Every description seems important, intentional. There’s no verbose fluff going into the way the light hits a window, unless it’s driving the story forward. Even the scenes that seem to exist for the sole purpose of describing beauty serve to contrast with the action that happens within that chapter. Every stitch feels exactly in the right place with its own purpose. 

Another impressive feat of the book is pacing. From cover to cover, the story takes place over several decades, but the passage of time hardly feels jarring. There were a couple of times I needed to reconfigure where we were on the timeline, but it was carefully laid out in parts, so that each major time jump falls within those splits. I felt like the flow was easy to follow along with and wasn’t confusing. 

The only confusion I got comes from the namesake of the book. While, yes, Elektra is prominently featured in the book, I felt the title was misleading. It simply wasn’t a story about Elektra (like how Madeline Miller’s Circe was very much exclusively about Circe). As I mentioned, we have three narrators: Clytemnestra, Cassandra, and Elektra. I believe the entire first part doesn’t even have a POV switch to Elektra. While this does make sense in the context as you’re reading, it did throw me for a loop wondering if Part One was just a prolonged prologue leading up to Elektra’s debut. However, my feelings on her prominence didn’t change. If I had to pick one of the three characters to give the book a title, it would’ve been Clytemnestra hands down, but I have a fan theory: the publishing house wanted a more eye-catching and intriguing book title, but that’s a whole other article. 

I’ll restate what I said earlier: if you’re a fan of Greek mythos, definitely get yourself a copy of the book. If you’re not familiar with mythology but like the idea of them, even better, throw it on your TBR pile. If you’re completely removed from both categories, I’m impressed you’ve made it all the way through the Greek names and allusions in this review—so go add it to your list, too. While I’m still left a little baffled by the title choice, ultimately, I got over my confusion enough to plow through the book at Zeus’ lightning speed. 

Elektra by Jennifer Saint is available for purchase now at your local independent bookstore or wherever fine books are sold.

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