TITLE: The Penelopiad
AUTHOR: Margaret Atwood
SERIES: Canongate Myth Series (#2)
GENRE: Adult, Retelling, Fantasy, Historical Fiction
RATING: 5/5 Stars
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.
What I Liked:
- Atwood's writing is intelligent and witty, and that's what I loved most about this book. Penelope is not the most loveable MC, but she doesn't need to be. She's an incredible storyteller, and I found that I didn't care for Odysseus's adventures. Her account of life as a lady was far more interesting. I liked the unusual choral additions from the twelve maids, laced with a sharp bitterness. It really referenced greek culture and entertainment, but brought it into the modern age.
- This book really resounded with current events, especially the #MeToo campaign and the feminist movement. Social injustice and sexism are really big themes right now and it felt like the perfect time to read about them with the backdrop of an ancient story. Scarily, it doesn't feel like we have moved forward from these times a whole lot.
What I Disliked:
- Nothing about this book really stood out to me as a dislike. I was hooked from beginning to end. The only thing, I guess, was that the characters felt a little one-dimensional at times. Particularly Helen, whom I would have loved to see some more depth from (especially as history remembers her for beauty alone, and no personality). That being said, this wasn't Helen's story and characterisation was not the point to this.
I'm so glad that I adored this for a couple of reasons: (a) I love Greek mythology and retellings, (b) I liked the last book by Atwood that I read but I really wanted to find some work of hers that I love and this fit the bill nicely, and (c) I needed to find a book to be hooked on again. I really enjoyed this read and it was perfect for the Summer too with the Greek setting!