The Penelopiad is fascinating, strange, beautiful, and just the tiniest bit heartbreaking in all the right ways. It is a retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey from the point of view of Odysseus’ stoic and long-suffering wife Penelope. As Homer’s Penelope is essentially summed by the phrase “good wife,” Atwood has room to truly explore and create. Atwood crafts the story in a mixture of passages that have Penelope narrating from the grave, alternating between poetry and prose. Penelope focuses not only on her absent husband, but also on all the duties of a wife who must keep her husband’s estate from falling apart. The result is a brilliant, if fictionalized, look into the mind of one of history’s forgotten women.
A unique look at an ancient classic; Penelope is now made a central figure, and is given new depth of character. Clearly the Odyssey, and ancient Greece were well researched before this book was made.
A quick but brilliant read. Atwood creates a rich voice for Penelope as she recounts her life in a way that reframes her existence outside of that of her husband. Interspersed with Penelope's narrative are interjections from a chorus made up of the twelve maids who Odysseus had killed for colluding with the suitors. These often more poetic turns provide a different perspective again on the tale Penelope weaves. An intriguing exploration of a woman who in the original source text only matters in relation to her husband, Atwood creates a complex woman who remains an enigma even in her own tale.
In the Underworld, Penelope reflects on her life with and without Odysseus, on the suitors (whose ghosts still annoy her) and on the serving maids she loved who met a terrible and unjust fate.
Now this is how you retell a classic story. This is the Margaret Atwood I love: spiriting through fields of asphodel in Hades instead of stumbling through the mosquito-infested backwoods of Canada. Atwood has a hell of an imagination, and in The Penelopiad a divine story has birthed itself out of her forehead.
In true Atwood fashion, The Penelopiad is not without fairly annoying interludes of poems, songs, ballads and other jarring forays from the prose … but what sublime, hilarious prose it is, and it makes the voyage worth it.
If reading the Odyssey is your kind of thing, you will probably enjoy a book like this, which riffs on the original story by telling Penelope's part in her voice - she now resides in Hades, and looks back at the main story and what she knew of Odysseus' travels while she held the royal estates as best as she could. Atwood started this when she wondered why Odysseus hanged the 12 maids of Penelope on his return; it's not explained at all in the original, and Atwood decided that exploring that question would open up the story of Penelope in its own way.
So: interesting story, nice variations and explanations of the original material, and something more for people who enjoyed Zachary Mason's book The Lost Books of the Odyssey
Read Homer's Odyssey first to get the full appreciation of it.
Some humorous parts. Better than I expected.
Greek mythology. We?ve all been there and done that, from memorizing the Greek Pantheon to studying The Iliad and The Odyssey. And so surely we can?t help but have noticed the raw deal that those ancient Greek women get?daughters sacrificed so their fathers can get a favorable wind to sail off to war, mothers? warnings dismissed when their young sons head out to die as heroes, wives left home alone while their husbands go adventuring for fame and the fortune of the gods. Odysseus (hero of the infamous Odyssey) has one of the most famous wives in Greek history: Penelope, who is abandoned for twenty years while Odysseus fights (and wins) the Trojan War and then gets lost at sea to tangle with the one-eyed giant Cyclops and sexy sea-nymphs like Circe and the Sirens. Penelope is left with a small son and a household to manage; as the years passed and Odysseus failed to return, the son becomes increasingly rebellious and the household is overrun by men looking to marry her and inherit Odysseus? substantial fortune. She manages to hold the suitors off and wait for her long-lost husband, but even he tests her thoroughly to determine her faithfulness once he finally returns. Today Penelope is renowned for her extreme patience--which, to be frank, is pretty boring. All that changes with author Margaret Atwood?s The Penelopiad, which sticks to the same old story but gives us Penelope?s unique perspective. We?re not too surprised to find that Penelope is intelligent and compassionate, but she also turns out to be equally the match of her notoriously wily husband. In the spirit of ancient Greek theatre, Atwood lets Penelope?s twelve maids, who Odysseus ruthlessly kills when he returns, act as the chorus to Penelope?s story; the result is a poignant, insightful twist on one of the oldest classics of all time, and it serves to answer an important question: Just what was Penelope up to all that time?
A funny and touching story. Atwood spins a new cloth out of old fabric. Even mythology gurus will enjoy Penelope as she bares all!
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