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Friday, September 26, 2008

The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
Reason for Reading: Mythopoeic Award Challenge
Rating: 4.5/5

Margaret Atwood is not an author you really read for pure pleasure, because her books, though masterful, thought-provoking, and spell-binding, are also extremely LONG, and the action takes a while to pick up.

Still, I have managed this year to read Cat's Eye, The Blind Assassin, and The Handmaid's Tale.

All of which, I did enjoy, after about the half-way point, when all of the seemingly loose connections fit together.

So how could I pass up The Penelopiad, which is not only a retelling of a myth (a favorite genre of mine), but is also a novella?

Have you ever read one of the classic Greek myths and felt just a little bad about the fate of some of the characters who end up killed or punished by the gods? In the story of the Odyssey, Odysseus is away fighting in the Trojan war for ten years, then spends another ten years wandering around, trying to find his way home. All the while his constant wife, Penelope, waits for him and does her best to hold off the hoard of suitors come to try and make her their bride. What did Penelope think of her husband? What was her reaction when he arrived home, disguised as a beggar, and along with her son, Telemachus, murders all of the suitors, and twelve of Penelope's maids as well?

From the other side of Hades, we finally get to hear Penelope's side of things. With her twelve hanged maids as a Greek chorus, she tells the story of her childhood, her true opinions of her obnoxious cousin, Helen (yes, of Troy), her marriage to Odysseus, living with her mother-in-law, the twenty years she was left to her own devices and how she managed to outwit a great band of suitors clamoring for Odysseus' fortune. Greek myths so often focus on the heroes and the powerful, but in this novella, Atwood tried to illuminate life for the weak, the powerless. The unfairness of humans who have had their lives interfered with by the gods.

Penelope, who, like the other inhabitants of Hades can glimpse out into the real world, speaks to us in modern language, and her Greek chorus performs a sea-chanty, a tapdance, and act out a courtroom scene for the benefit of the audience. It's an interesting presentation. Some readers might find it disconcerting, but I really enjoyed this quick, easily digestible read.

Other reviews:
Bookreporter.com, Thoughts of Joy, Estella's Revenge, 51Stories, Dewey, Kailana

11 comments:

Nymeth said...

I really enjoyed it too. I want to pick up The Blind Assassin next. I'm sure I will enjoy it, but the length is a bit intimidating, and like you said her books aren't always easy reads. But in the end they are very satisfying, so I want to make the effort.

Rachel said...

Thanks for the review! I will have to find a copy of this. The Handmaid's Tale is one of my favorites. I am currently reading Alias Grace and really like it so far.

Trish said...

I've heard mixed reviews on this one but I love everything Atwood so I'll get around to it sooner or later. Some of those mythical characters sure had it hard, huh! Glad you enjoyed this one--even if Atwood is work she is still great (and I love her because she does make me work!!).

Andi said...

I really need to get off my butt and read this one. I really think I'd love it. Great review!

mariel said...

I've been meaning to read this for a long time too. Glad you enjoyed it.

Trish said...

I left you something here :)

Seachanges said...

I loved this book... reviewed it too.

Amanda said...

Oh I read this book too. While it's not my favorite Atwood book I did like the topic. Thanks!

Rhinoa said...

I can't wait to read this. I love Atwood and would disagree wth you as I do read her for pure pleasure personally. I haven't read too many of her books considering how many she has written (6 I think to date) and as I love mythology and re-tellings from different perspectives I know I am in for a treat.

SuziQoregon said...

I've only read 2 of Margaret Atwoods books (so far). I thought both Handmaids Tale and Cat's Eye were very good. I'll definitely be reading more. I totally agree that you don't read her for pure pleasure.

Jessica said...

Thanks for your comment on my review of The Handmaid's Tale. It was my first Atwood, and I can't decide which to attempt next. This little novella might be a good place to start. Thanks for the review.