Monday, May 30, 2011

The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus. Margaret Atwood. 2005. 220 pages.

Now that I'm dead I know everything. This is what I wished would happen, but like so many of my wishes it failed to come true. I know only a few factoids that I didn't know before. It's much too high a price to pay for the satisfaction of curiosity, needless to say. Since being dead -- since achieving this state of bonelessness, liplessness, breastlessness -- I've learned some things I would rather not know, as one does when listening at windows or opening other people's letters. You think you'd like to read minds? Think again. Down here everyone arrives with a sack, like the sacks used to keep the winds in, but each of these sacks is full of words -- words you've spoken, words you've heard, words that have been said about you. Some sacks are very small, others large; my own is of a reasonable size, though a lot of the words in it concern my eminent husband. What a fool he made of me, some say. He got away with everything, which was another of his specialties: getting away. He was always so plausible...

The Penelopiad is a novel retelling of the Greek myth of Penelope and Odysseus. The story is told essentially from thirteen points-of-view. That is if you count each of the twelve maids as a person, an individual. In alternating chapters, we hear from Penelope, the faithful wife of Odysseus, and from Penelope's twelve maids, beautiful young women who were raped and harassed by Penelope's suitors while her husband was missing in action. While Penelope's voice stays the same throughout the novel, the narration by the maids varies throughout. Almost like a kaleidoscope. These twelve voices are united together as one; they are a chorus begging to be heard, and a chorus demanding justice. I found these chapters to be the most creative. Not that I didn't enjoy Penelope's side of things. I did. How perhaps only in her death did she begin to realize what a jerk Odysseus was. How he had a way of spinning things always to his advantage, a way to make himself appear to be the hero no matter the facts.

I thought The Penelopiad was well-written. It was creative, compelling, and  easy to read. (I'm not so sure you'd even need to be all that familiar with the original myth.) I liked it. I'm very glad I read it. It was definitely an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. But I'm not sure that I loved it.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Phillip H. Tang 10:13 AM  

Looking at the cover art in the bottom right, it looks like this story is retold in the modern era? I guess it's nice to see things from the other perspective (ie. someone other than Odysseus), but I don't know how I like that it's not from Homer or whoever the original authors were.

Becky 10:41 AM  

It was modern and not modern. Penelope is telling her story in the afterlife. And so the world has gone on, and we hear her talking about the modern world in passing, usually in her conversations with Helen who has been rebirthed many, many times since the original story. But the story itself, the story Penelope is telling readers, is the ancient one.

Debi 1:49 PM  

Ooooh, I think this is just the book I need to finally dip my toes into Atwood's books. She scares me witless for some reason! I keep saying I'm going to try Oryx and Crake one of these days. But now I think this is the perfect starter. Thanks, Becky!

Amanda 4:29 PM  

While I respect and admire this retelling and think it's an awesome perspective, I didn't love it either.

Col (Col Reads) 5:44 PM  

I totally agree -- I don't think you'd need to have read Odyssey to get a lot out of The Penelopiad. I liked Penelope's voice way better than that of the Maids, but I did think they both added a really interesting perspective. Thanks for reading along!

Bellezza 8:28 PM  

Weren't the maids a stitch? I laughed at their verse, at their silly mocking; I never took them quite seriously. It is interesting all the points of view that Atwoods uses, especially Penelope's from beyond death. Perhaps we would be able to see all things far more clearly then, certainly retrospect gives one clearer vision. I'm glad that you read it with us, Becky!

book reviewer 10:39 PM  

this book really awesome i think.. :)
nice share....

Cindy Swanson 1:18 AM  

I've never read anything by Atwood. This does sound interesting, and I would consider it...terrific review!

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