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Literature

Jennifer Saint’s Latest Compelling Novel, Elektra

Retellings of Greek myths are as old as the myths themselves. From the oral poetry tradition and ancient Greek drama to present day literary and film adaptations, Greek mythology is a powerful source of inspiration for artists and authors. In recent times, the retellings have focused on the unheard voices and the lesser known characters in the myths, mostly women. Elektra by Jennifer Saint is another impressive retelling of Greek myth, a strong follow-up to her debut novel, Ariadne, which became an international bestseller, A Book of the Month pick, and garnered comparisons to Madeline Miller’s Circe and Song of Achilles.

Published by Flatiron Books, the book weaves together the stories of three women bound to the House of Atreus, desperate to escape an ancient curse and to step out of the shadow of the heroes of the Trojan War. The characters are well-known to those familiar with Greek myths- Clytemnestra, Cassandra, and the title character, Elektra, but Saint’s retelling of their stories allows us to experience the dramatic events through their own eyes and with a deeper sense of their emotional truth and the profound lessons that ancient Greek myths can still teach us today about human nature and its constancy. While readers may have some preconceived notions about these characters from previous literary encounters, Saint has created a formidable cast in this book to take on some of the most iconic scenes from Greek mythology and drama.

Clytemnestra emerges as a more complicated character than just the vengeful wife of Agamemnon and the mother of the doomed Iphigenia as well as the “fiery and incandescent” Elektra, as her father named her, and Orestes, charged with avenging his father’s murder by killing his mother. Some might say spoiler alert here, but for those of us who have read Aeschylus’ Oresteia and Homer’s Iliad, the story and the themes are not new. Saint’s retelling, however, presents expanded details of Elektra’s story which give her a chance to shine as a character and she does not disappoint, even if her mother somehow manages to steal scene after scene.

The book also offers more detail to the back story of Cassandra, a daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, who became a priestess of Apollo and is able to foretell the future but unable to make anyone listen to her. She is perhaps the most tragic figure in the entire book and even if we know what fate has in store for her, the journey to that final point is compelling and the story so well-written, it keeps the reader riveted to the end.

Fans of retellings of Greek myths will undoubtedly enjoy this emotionally-charged book, while also looking forward to Saint’s next novel.

According to Saint’s biography, her lifelong fascination with ancient Greek mythology led her to read Classical Studies at King’s College, London. She spent the next 13 years as an English teacher, sharing a love of literature and creative writing with her students.

Elektra by Jennifer Saint is available online and in bookstores, along with her powerful debut novel Ariadne.

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