Published in: 2005
Edition read: Paperback
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.
This was a really good book, an interesting take on the Odyssey story from Penelope’s POV. The story is told as if Penelope is dead, a soul wandering Hades and thinking back on her life, as well as in song form by the 12 hanged maids. It sounds like it’d be weird and a bit boring, but it’s really interesting and easy to follow.
I read the Odyssey last year, so some of the details were pretty fresh still to me, but others were completely forgotten- like the fact that 12 maids were hanged- making this an interesting test of my memory (did this happen in the Odyssey, or is this something that the author has imagined? Who knows?!) but all in all, really enjoyable and I read it in pretty much one sitting.
The Penelopiad rating: 8/10
Would I re-read it? Yes
Who would I recommend it to? Fans of Greek Mythology, anyone who has read The Odyssey, fans of the author, fans of retellings of famous stories.