I have to admit that, while I enjoyed this book, I was a little disappointed with it. I love my Greek myths; I love them straight, retold, subv3 Stars
I have to admit that, while I enjoyed this book, I was a little disappointed with it. I love my Greek myths; I love them straight, retold, subverted, critiqued, pretty much any way an author cares to do a Greek myth, I will be happy to read it. And The Odyssey is my absolute favourite. Has been my favourite since the sanitised cartoon version I had as a kid first introduced me to Greek myths. Ever since I read the 'original' version (as original as a 20th century translation of a source compiled from oral retellings can be), however, I have been painfully aware that Odysseus is a complete dick. A cheating, lying, not-as-clever-as-he-thinks-he-is, dick. So a retelling by Margaret Atwood (who I am starting to love) that tells things from Penelope's perspective, gives her a bit more agency, and addresses arguably Odysseus's most heinous act...Well it should have been right up my street.
And it started well, for the first few chapters focussing on Penelope's childhood, the first few interludes by the murdered serving maids (acting as a Greek Chorus to punctuate Penelope's narrative with songs, poetry, and speculation), I thought this was going to be a 4 star read at least. Unfortunately, as the story caught up with her marriage and got to the events of The Odyssey, it gradually got less interesting. For a retelling, it hew too close to the original, not offering as many new insight or perspectives as I had hoped. All the stuff Atwood writes in the Penelopiad could have happened between the lines and away from the Odysseus-centred perspective in The Odyssey - and I get that that is exactly Atwood's point. But I felt like it could have done with more deviation from the source material. The central part of the novel essentially amounts to a summing up of Odysseus's return to Ithaca, offering no new narrative to it beyond Penelope saying she instantly saw through Odysseus disguise (I never doubted that she had in the original), and being friendly with the 'traitorous' serving maids.
It's a good book, for what it is: essentially Penelope's perspective of books 17-24 off the Odyssey. Only, despite being the centre of the narrative, Atwood's Penelope somehow has less agency and smarts than the Penelope of the original, for me. The Penelope I imagine in the Odyssey is smart,witty, resilient, proud, and a bit of a quiet badass. Atwood's Penelope is weepy (crying is her main action for a lot of the book), naive, and consumed by jealousy of her cousin, Helen of Troy. She tells us she is clever but, aside from the shroud trick (which comes directly from The Odyssey), offers very little proof.
It's a good little book (and a very quick and easy read). It's good to see that other people have the same critiques of the characters that I had studying it back as a teenager. But I wanted more from this book than it actually offered. And, from Margaret Atwood, I expected more from it too....more
Essentially a bad-mediocre airport novel that I can imagine mildly entertaining somebody else's dad on holiday. Not my dad, obviously, cause he'1 Star
Essentially a bad-mediocre airport novel that I can imagine mildly entertaining somebody else's dad on holiday. Not my dad, obviously, cause he'd think it was a lot of badly written bollocks. But maybe someone like my best friend from school's dad - a smart, very nice, very friendly bloke, who none the less read a fucking shit newspaper every day.
There are so many issues I had with this book (and I'm sure I will get to talk about some of them in the book group that chose it at the end of the month!), but at the end of the day it's clearly written as a shitty disposable thriller for men who don't read a lot but have a basic grasp of modern history (you can tell it's aimed at men because the author can't fucking write women). Any time spent critiquing is time I could spend doing literally anything else....more