Monday, 25 May 2015

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

The Penelopiad 
by Margaret Atwood

Summary: Now that all the others have run out of air, it's my turn to do a little story-making.

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.

In a splendid contemporary twist to the ancient story, Margaret Atwood has chosen to give the telling of it to Penelope and to her twelve hanged maids, asking: "What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?" In Atwood's dazzling, playful retelling, the story becomes as wise and compassionate as it is haunting, and as wildly entertaining as it is disturbing. With wit and verve, drawing on the story-telling and poetic talent for which she herself is renowned, she gives Penelope new life and reality--and sets out to provide an answer to an ancient mystery.
So I picked this book up after a booktuber I'm subscribed to mentioned it a few times and I started reading it today on a whim -- I just expected to read a few pages, just to see what the book was like because I wasn't really convinced I'd like it... Well, I couldn't put it down. I read it cover to cover and loved every second of it.

Why why why has it taken me this long to read a Margaret Atwood book? I've had The Handmaids Tale sitting on my shelves for ages, unread, and now I'm kicking myself because her writing is fantastic -- it totally draws you in, its honest and lyrical and humorous at times and just...dfjhldfhj! I cannot fangirl her writing enough, this book has definitely made me a fan of hers.

As for the story itself... it should be noted that I've not actually read The Odyssey yet (I've wanted to read The Odyssey and The Iliad for ages, it's just one of those things that I'm taking ages to get round to doing).

So, I don't want to talk much about the story itself, as I don't know which details are overlapping and which are purely a result of Atwood's own creativity, but I will say that the story stands on its own. You can totally read it and appreciate it with the minimum knowledge of the story it's inspired by (although, I do think I'd appreciate it more had I read The Odyssey first).

Penelope was a great narrator, she was clever and witty and, I'm not sure if Odysseus is as much of a tool in his own story, but seeing it through her perspective he came across as such an arrogant asshat who didn't deserve Penelope. And I loved the chorus chapters from the perspective of the maids with their justified anger and abundance of snark.

That's all I'm going to say about the book (it's hard to review it when I don't want to talk about the plot)... I loved it, it had me completely hooked and enamoured with the writing. I'd rate it 5 out of 5 stars.



  1. I've read a bunch of different retellings of the Iliad and Odyssey over the years, but not one yet from Penelope's point of view. I'll have to read this one!

  2. I liked Odyssey when I read it and I liked Margaret Atwood when I finally read her this year (The Handmaid's Tale) so I'm thinking this will be a good read to me! Thanks for the review!

  3. I read The Handmaid's Tale and it was so hard to review. I liked and hated it all at once. Now I am pulled into this story via your review. Not wanting to tell us anything makes me more curious. Great review!



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