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The Penelopiad

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  48,810 ratings  ·  4,470 reviews
Now that all the others have run out of air, it’s my turn to do a little story-making.

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 a

Hardcover, 198 pages
Published October 5th 2005 by Canongate U.S.
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Katie The suffix -iad means "concerned with" or "connected to" -- for example, Homer's Iliad is the story of the war in Troy, whose name in Greek is Ilium. …moreThe suffix -iad means "concerned with" or "connected to" -- for example, Homer's Iliad is the story of the war in Troy, whose name in Greek is Ilium. Penelopiad is the story concerned with Penelope.(less)
Shweta Ramdas I hadn't been very familiar with the myth when I read the book. While the book was comprehensible and an easy read, I did feel like I lost out on real…moreI hadn't been very familiar with the myth when I read the book. While the book was comprehensible and an easy read, I did feel like I lost out on realising just how wickedly subversive it was. Without this context, the book just felt like a light breezy read.(less)

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Average rating 3.71  · 
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(B+) 77% | Good
Notes: It succeeds in its ambitious concept and style, but comes off more like a postscript to The Odyssey than its own story.
Jun 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"we had no voice
we had no name
we had no choice
we had one face
one face the same

we took the blame
it was no fair
but now w're here
we're all here too
the same as you"

The truly successful myths are those that can be retold over and over from different angles and still speak to a contemporary audience with the same intensity as to past centuries. When Margaret Atwood picked up the story of Penelope and Odysseus, she kept all the familiar ideas, and yet - it is an entirely modern vision, and a modern v
Often I amuse myself by trying to imagine the ideas, conversations, or circumstances that led to the writing of certain books. For example, I think Philippa Gregory wrote The Other Boleyn Girl because she wanted to write a smutty romance novel disguised as history, Shakespeare probably wrote The Taming of the Shrew because someone bet him he couldn't write a play where domestic abuse is interpreted as matrimonial devotion, and Bette Green wrote Summer of My German Soldier specifically to torture ...more
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Margaret Atwood gives us a reworked reinterpretation of Homer's The Odyssey that lends itself rather well to our present day in its contemporary echoes of our MeToo movement today. We have the abandoned for 20 years, but faithful Penelope learning to manage the court in the absence of her philandering husband. Numerous suitors come to court, Penelope commands the twelve maids, slaves in reality, to be used and abused, to deal with them. The inherently flawed Odysseus spent the first 10 years fig ...more
Charlotte May
This was technically a reread, but I couldn't remember the specific dates I read it the first time, so I recorded this as a first time read.

Such an enjoyable, quick and surprising retelling of The Odyssey from Penelope's perspective. Nearly everyone knows Odysseus, smart, witty, promiscuous; tackles 1 too many mythical beasts over the decade he is missing on his return from The Trojan War.
Penelope is sassy, intelligent, and more than a little bit pissed off at her cousin Helen for causing this w
✘✘ Sarah ✘✘ (former Nefarious Breeder of Murderous Crustaceans)
And the moral of this rereread is: still have nothing to report about this one. Except that it's sheer brilliance, obviously.

I have it on (very good) authority that Margaret Atwood absolutely lurves this gif, just so you know. And I'm not even kidding. I think.

[March 2015]

The Greatness Syndrome: when a book is so original, thought-provoking and fantastically written that there is nothing to say about it.

Riku Sayuj
The Penelopiad or The Ballad of the Dead Maids

This has been my introduction to Atwood and I have to admit that I feel slightly underwhelmed. I went in with high expectations, wondering how Atwood will take the 'waiting widow' of The Odyssey and transform it into a full length novel. Turns out that she mostly indulges in recapitulating the bulk of the original with a few wild theories and speculations thrown in as supposed rumors that Penelope has gleaned in the after-life.

Which brings me to how
Jul 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mythology, atwood, canada
This was so beautifully written. As someone who's fairly familiar with the myth of Penelope and Odysseus, it was quite fascinating to see how a modern-day writer would spin the story. Atwood did this brilliantly. I love stories that write from the perspective of the main character, especially when the said character is looking back in hindsight.Very creative. ...more
Lucy Langford
”We had no voice,
We had no name,
We had no choice,
We had one face,
One face the same"

This book focuses on the story of Penelope and the twelve maids immortalised in myth by the story of Odysseus. This is told from Penelope's point of view as she wonders through the underworld, looking back on events that had taken place in her life.

Penelope in this book is fiercely intelligent, cunning and much more than just the devoted wife as portrayed in Homer's- The Odyssey. It goes through her life as a
Emer (A Little Haze)
I really do not like this book. I find it to be very poorly constructed with glaring inconsistencies and sadly underdeveloped characters that were merely pastiches rather than living, breathing, feeling, multi-layered human beings.

But I'm lazy and not in the mood to write a review that deconstructs this whole abysmal mess. However, my good friend Gabby also read this (it was a book group read of ours) and she really takes the time to break things down in her review which I'm linking right here.
3.5. A smart, funny and feminist response to The Odyssey, Atwood paints a full picture of Penelope’s perspective and shares it like a secret. You can tell Atwood’s having fun here, and part of that fun includes sprinkling in some bitterness and outrage to give the piece depth and meaning. I use the word piece, however, because - unlike Atwood’s Hag Seed, based on The Tempest, or Miller’s Song of Achilles, based on The Iliad - I can’t imagine anyone enjoying this work without having first read Th ...more
Aug 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
In the pantheon of great Greek works the Odyssey certainly ranks among the most well known. The adventures of Odysseus as he tries to win his way home from the successful Trojan War, a war that had already kept him from home for ten years. Well, after another ten years of various adventures and misadventures he finally makes it home to Ithaca only to find his loyal wife, Penelope, beset by opportunistic suitors drinking his wine and eating his livestock. Yada yada yada, he and his son kill all t ...more
Stories about the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey" have always been some of my favorites. I remember spending hours pouring over Robert Graves' "The Greek Myths" when I was a kid, and loving every strange and surreal stories in those pages. Those stories have gotten trendy again, if one is to judge by the amount of retellings gracing the shelves ("Circe", "The Silence of the Girls", "A Thousand Ships", etc.), but Margaret Atwood was, as usual, a little ahead of the curve.

Odysseus is one of my favorite
Dec 11, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 21st-century, canada
This review contains spoilers. If you are allergic to them, please note, this is positively riddled with them. You should either take some epinephrine, or skip it altogether.

As a modern re-telling of the Odyssey, this proves an interesting example of why some things are best left alone, especially if you don't address the topic in a particularly fresh or inventive way. I feel the sting in that, even as I write it, but in truth, I don't see how Atwood moved the needle one bit in re-opening, or ev
Olive Fellows (abookolive)
This is incredibly short, and I still couldn't finish it. This is so overly simplistic in its language (was this written for high school audiences? I'm not even joking - that's a serious question) and the tone is super aggressive. I guess the excuse for that is because Penelope is writing this after her death (okay?), but it seems the whole purpose of the book is to spit venom at Odysseus as opposed to actually putting us in Penelope's shoes.

The maids who were murdered after his return to Ithac
capture stories
Oct 16, 2020 rated it liked it
“The Penelopiad” is a miniature book that was retold by Margaret Atwood on the story of the “Odyssey”. It was a reimagine tale from Penelope's perspective and her twelve maids about sabotage and subsistence of livelihood in the palace centuries ago that continues to the afterlife.

I find it genuinely intriguing and amazed by this small and mighty miniature as studying Penelope's character, who is unvoiced but given a new animation and existence. The brilliancy of ancient mystery can still speak v
Apr 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019, fiction, greek, myth
“Happy endings are best achieved by keeping the right doors locked”
― Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad


I like looking at myths and great literature in another way. I enjoyed the book, but it just wasnt' great Margaret Atwood. It felt a bit dashed-off, almost an afterthought. Great in idea, but just OK in execution.

Things I liked:
1. the conception
2. the re-evaluation of Penelope in conjunction with Helen, Odysseus, Eryurycleia, Telemachus, etc.
3. the re-evaluation of Odysseus
4. the idea of the 12
I'm a sucker for Odysseus, as many of you know (once I finish gawain's daughter, I'm planning on writing the Telemakhiad, for example), so I appreciate that this doesn't make him a villian, a wife-beater or somesuch.

There are some excellent moments -- the opening line is brilliant ('Now that I'm dead I know everything'); and the wordplay throughout is superb; the 'gilded blood pudding' simile (trust me, it's good); the relationship between the maids and Telemakhos (although she doesn't expand up
Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂
Tip; If you aren't familiar with (or have forgotten) this Greek myth don't read the introduction to this novel as it contains spoilers. I love the Greek myths (I must have mean streak!) but I had forgotten some of this. I would rather of been taken by surprise.

A clever idea to feminise one of the most famous of these legends, but the start had some lazy writing;

Where shall I begin? There are only two choices: at the beginning or not at the beginning.

There is also that unfortunate whiff you
Amy | littledevonnook
Apr 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult
I read this one on the recommendation of the lovely Jean at Bookishthoughts and thoroughly enjoyed it!

- So this is a modern retelling of the story of Penelope and Odysseus which can be found in Homer's account in The Odyssey. Penelope and Odysseus are well known and their story is one that has been told many times - this time however we delve much deeper and Margaret Atwood shares the tale of Penelope and her aspiring suitors plus that of the twelve handmaids whom Odysseus executed upon his retu
Apr 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
Margaret Atwood has a brilliant mind, and I think this book is a brilliant way to start the Canongate Myth series: with a story that illustrates the various ways a myth can be interpreted.

Who is telling the truth? Is there only one truth? If so, can it be known? This may seem like a slight read, but underneath it has a lot to say about these questions; about the nature of silence; and storytelling itself, including unexpected danger when perhaps you think you've got everything covered ...
Jun 21, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, didnt-finish
The one where Penelope tells her story from the Underworld. I made it about sixty pages before the whining got to me.

Presumably the author feels that Penelope deserves better than to be a secondary character. But since, when put on center stage, this universal-victim Penelope never asserts herself, and is chiefly worried about whether people like her and how she's not as pretty as Helen of Troy, I'd say the Odyssey did her a better turn than Atwood did.
Natalie Monroe
“You don’t have to think of us as real girls, real flesh and blood, real pain, real injustice. That might be too upsetting. Just discard the sordid part. Consider us pure symbol. We’re not more real than money.”

^Me in response to Margaret Atwood's claim that she wrote The Penelopaid to explore Penelope and the twelve hanged maids more in depth.

The twelve maids are basically a single entity throughout the entire book, which is weird considering the book is about them. Only M-something of the
Penelope gets the shaft. Come to think of it so does Clymmenstra. Let’s get that clear before we go any further.

Homer was on to something when the he composed the most famous of all ancient works in the forms of the Iliad and the Odyssey. I doubt he even knew how long the story would last and how often his name would be invoked in despair by students the world over. Today, Troy and its related matter appear in a variety of forms from movies, video games, to various books.

This fame of the story h
Oct 29, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
The Penelopiad is another installment of the Canongate Myths Series.

In this installment, Margaret Atwood turns her hand to the story of Odysseus and tells the story of The Odyssey and The Iliad from the perspective of Penelope, Odysseus' wife.

If you have ever wondered what it would be like to read an Atwood version of Homer's anthem to heroism, it was fun. I read this whilst waiting at the garage. Apparently, my chuckling along persuaded the elderly gentleman next to me to co-read while waiting
Ova - Excuse My Reading
Sep 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
It's always a joy to read a poetic story telling by Atwood, and Penelopiad works like a charm. An elegant short novel of Greek myth. ...more
David Lentz
Jan 03, 2012 rated it liked it
I was intrigued to read a woman's point of view focused upon one of the great heroines of Homer's "Odyssey" in Penelope. Homer's work is, of course, an epic masterpiece which has endured for more than four milennia and it is nearly impossible to do justice to this legend of incredible, ancient genius. I was disappointed in several places by Atwood's rather shallow depictions of the characters of both Odysseus and Penelope who were both courageous and brilliant in their own ways in Homer's tale. ...more
May 14, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
An interesting exploration of the back story behind Homer's tale.

Penelope is left behind when Odysseus goes off to the Trojan war. For ten years of war and then a further ten years of gallivanting around the Med, Penelope waits patiently at home for her man.

Odysseus gets to fight Cyclops, dodge sirens and sleep with goddesses, whilst Penelope brings up their son - and a ravenous set of youths circle around the rich "widow". She gets her maids to see to the amorous suitors whilst desperately seek
Jun 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very clever execution.

Atwood's reimagining of Penelope from the Odyssey, who never speaks a single word is fascinating and an interesting character study. Odysseus's wife, and yes! Atwood totally throws that weasel under the bus by calling him out to be the liar and thief he was. That said, Penelope is not an inspiring character. Young when wed and very much the bend not break kind of personality means everyone else gets top billing.

But hands down, the best and my favorite part was the Hanged M
Ashley Daviau
Jul 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
At this point I think it would be impossible for Atwood to write a book I don’t fall head over heels in love with. Whether it’s poetry, short stories, dystopian fiction or mythology, she does it all fabulously and flawlessly. I was so excited when I found out this was based on Greek mythology, it’s a subject I’ve always been completely fascinated by. And I absolutely wasn’t disappointed! Atwood captures Penelope’s voice perfectly and puts such a fresh spin on this story, I really couldn’t have l ...more
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Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master's degree from Radcliffe College.

Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, childr

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