Emily O's Reviews > The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
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Nov 03, 10

bookshelves: women-authors, myths-and-fairy-tales, contemporary-lit
Recommended for: myth geeks, Atwood lovers
Read in November, 2010

Sometimes you just need to read a short book. When I ordered this book on paperbackswap I didn't think much about how it would fit into my schedule, but when it came in the mail and I saw how short it was, I could not have been more happy. The life of a student is very hectic in November, and this little novella fit in between the research papers and concert preparations just perfectly.

This novella by Margaret Atwood is the story of the Odyssey from the perspective of Penelope. In the Odyssey, when Odysseus returns home he kills all of the suitors and hangs twelve of the household maids. In this book Atwood speculates on why he had the maids killed and what may have happened at home while Odysseus was away.

This book is written in a style easy to read and understand. It goes by quickly, and could easily be finished in a few days. Atwood keeps true to the Greek tradition by separating the chapters narrated by Penelope with a chorus consisting of the twelve dead maids. Though most famous for her novels, Atwood is also an accomplished poet, and that shows in these chorus sections.

I already knew the story of the Odyssey when I started this book. I have always thought that Odysseus was kind of a jerk. It seems that he is always being unfaithful, boastful, or distrusting, and sometimes all three at once. I went into this book prepared to dislike him, and I wasn't persuaded otherwise. But he isn't really a main character in this novella. The title is the Penelopiad after all, and this book is definitely about Penelope. Sadly, I found her to be a rather disappointing character. In fact I found her to be pretty annoying. She is completely in awe of Odysseus. She is timid and afraid of his family and too spineless to stand up for either herself or her maids. All she does throughout the whole book is weep, complain that she misses her husband, and whine about how beautiful Helen is. Admittedly, Helen is annoyingly vain, but I don't see why Penelope has to get so insecure about it. I always pictured Penelope as a strong independent woman who could handle things on her own, not an insecure girl who burst into tears at the slightest provocation.

The chorus chapters from the point of the maids were much more interesting than the chapters narrated by Penelope. I definitely felt sorry for them, little things that they were, but I don't find that their story was enough to carry the book. Overall, I thought that this novella was an easy read and an interesting interpretation of the Odyssey, but it definitely isn't something I would read again. If you are very interested in Greek myth, then maybe you should check it out, but otherwise I wouldn't recommend it.
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