Review: The Penelopiad

Book: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Canongate, 2005
Genre: Fantasy, Myth, Retelling
Source + Date Read: Library + February 2013
Recommend: To those that like interpretations of myth, stories and literature and Margaret Atwood.
Book Pro’s: Lyrically written, it is paced well and such a quirky retelling of what many deem to be an ‘insignificant’ character.
Book Con’s: Its a true Margaret Atwood book, which at times is written in such a convoluted way.
Favourite Line: “I am tempted to think that to be despised by her sex is a very great compliment to a woman.”

Challenge: Feminist Reading Challenge
Summary: In Homer’s account in The Odyssey, Penelope–wife of Odysseus and cousin of the beautiful Helen of Troy–is portrayed as the quintessential faithful wife, her story a salutary lesson through the ages. Left alone for twenty years when Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan War after the abduction of Helen, Penelope manages, in the face of scandalous rumors, to maintain the kingdom of Ithaca, bring up her wayward son, and keep over a hundred suitors at bay, simultaneously. When Odysseus finally comes home after enduring hardships, overcoming monsters, and sleeping with goddesses, he kills her suitors and–curiously–twelve of her maids.
More Information: GoodReads

There are many editions of this book out with every single edition having a kick ass book cover. That being said, this one is my favourite. It is simply done, in a flat Grecian style, with modern coloring. It tells a lot, there is a woman on the screen but a ship far into the background. It is simple yet obvious in it what it is trying to convey.

Set during Homer’s Odyssey, Margaret Atwood injects some feminism and criticism into the story to give a classical Greek setting a bit of life.

The Penelopiad is replete with characters. Many of them we know from The Odyssey, yet what makes this story so beautiful is that Atwood takes Penelope from a dutiful wife to a living and breathing woman, someone so much better and whole than the flat description we get from Homer. Most importantly, Atwood does her best at characterizing the Maids. They’re given hearts and become more than their cruel deaths.

This book is part of a series, The Canongate Myths. This series is based upon world myths that have been retold or recreated by contemporary authors. Now, we all know that Atwood is a lyrical writer- and she goes above and beyond her usual style in The Penelopiad. The story takes a non-linear approach to Penelope’s point of view of the Olympiad. The chapters are interchangeable, first we here Penelope and then we see some sort of story, lyric or song from the Maids. Written in a scathing way, the Maids’ chapters are particularly sarcastic and irreverent. As a result, this book is not a stereotypical novel, rather readers must appreciate it as a piece of art.

You can’t just sit down and read the whole book in an afternoon- believe me, we tried and it was a failure. Instead, each chapter is a story upon itself and we had to go back a few times and reread a few to get a true appreciation of the characters and the plot. There is one aspect that makes the story, however, a true artistic representation of the human experience, and that is through Atwood’s development of her characters. We read about true flesh and blood, with jealousies, loves, idiosyncrasies and frustrations. The Maids are terrifyingly real, and their deaths rouse a strong feeling of injustice.

You have to love Atwood’s use of prose as well, this novel is chock full of quotes for your collection. Our one quip with the story is that we found it a bit difficult to digest, which makes it feel more artistic and ‘authentically’ intellectual, but damn, we reread the story at least 3 times in order to properly understand it- and even then we aren’t sure that we really did understand it. Oh well, we are staunch Atwood fans and are a bit biased in our love of this, but we’d love to hear what you think of it.



About Claire (BWB)

It's Claire (aka Quirky) from Bitches With Books, an online book blog that serves up a healthy dose of book reviews, lists + literary madness.
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3 Responses to Review: The Penelopiad

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