Author: Margaret Atwood
Series: Canongate Myths
Published: October 2005
Length: 198 pages
Other info: Atwood has written many things, such as The Blind Assassin, The Handmaid's Tale, and The Heart Goes Last. The Penelopiad was written as part of the Canongate Myths series.
Summary : For Penelope, wife of Odysseus, maintaining a kingdom while her husband was off fighting the Trojan war was not a simple business. Already aggrieved that he had been lured away due to the shocking behaviour of her beautiful cousin Helen, Penelope must bring up her wayward son, face down scandalous rumours and keep over a hundred lustful, greedy and bloodthirsty suitors at bay...And then, when Odysseus finally returns and slaughters the murderous suitors, he brutally hangs Penelope's twelve beloved maids. What were his motives? And what was Penelope really up to?
Review: Since her husband Odysseus left to fight in the Trojan War, and then gets caught up for ten years on the way back, Penelope has been left running her household, and fighting off suitors who want to marry her, and eat her out of house and home. Now that she's dead, she's ready to tell her side of the tale, as are the twelve maids who were hanged.
According to Goodreads, I read this a few years ago and gave it three stars, but I don't remember doing that. Now I know the Odyssey a bit more, and we're doing a feminist-orientated piece of English coursework, I decided to pick this up, and now I understand things better, I loved it.
There's reinterpretations and challenges to the characters and stories. Obviously, there's those against Odysseus, where there's the question of whether the Cyclops he fought was a monster or a one-eyed barkeeper, and whether his years with Circe and Calypso were spent in brothels or nymphs and witches. But there's also a conversation with Antinous, one of the suitors, explaining why they wanted to marry Penelope so much, and the presentation of Helen as vain, proud, and wanting to conquer men just because she can. Atwood has taken inspiration from multiple sources, not just Homer's epic, but also theories from Robert Graves (who used many writers to inform his work) and Homeric hymns. I like the possibilities this gave Atwood to work with, and the ways she used them.
Penelope's voice often dryly comments on various parts of the stories, and I enjoyed her different insights. What I liked most was the use of the chorus, the twelve maids, whose chapters mostly alternate with Penelope's and change styles each time. Poems, songs, plays, and a transcript of a modern-day murder trial are some of the ways the maids pass their story on in many ways. The writing is well crafted, allowing each of the styles as well as Penelope's main narration to work together to make a story that is intriguing and easy to read.
Overall: Strength 5 tea to a book that makes you think about the different interpretations a myth can have, and provides a new one.