Book Review – The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

I am not an great Atwood fan but I loved the concept of The Penelopaid. It helped that it is a short book and proved to be a quick and witty read.  

The book tells the story of Penelope, left alone for years by Odysseus when he went off to fight the Trojan war and then came back home the long way round! From Homer we know a great deal of what befell Odysseus on his travels but very little is known about how Penelope passed the years beyond that she was patient, virtuous and very long suffering. Atwood fills in the gaps but with a typical feminist slant.

The book is set in Hades with the dead Penelope narrating her story in a very dry, sharp style. She recalls her childhood, her rivalry with the beautiful Helen, her life with Odysseus, stories of his infidelity and how she copes with her stroppy son. She also debunks some of the myth around Odysseus but giving most things a very ordinary feel. Her story is accompanied by a Greek chorus giving a voice to the 12 young maids over whose fate Penelope is consumed with guilt and outrage. The chorus provides a satirical commentary and gives another spin on events. Although telling a tale of ancient Greece, the author manages to give it a contemporary feel.  There is an almost gossipy feel to the book which I enjoyed.

There doesn’t seem to be a purpose to this book beyond being a reinterpretation of a tale from Greek mythology. However, Atwood is an extremely clever writer who includes some interesting devices in the book. I did enjoy the book and found it really quite amusing and entertaining. Has this book converted me to being a true Atwood devotee? Probably not.  But it may well have encouraged me to try some of her other works.

Leeds Libraries Borrower

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