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The Penelopiad
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Greek Mythology > The Penelopaid - Spoilers Allowed

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Christine (chrisarrow) | 1385 comments Mod
A place to discuss the book with spoilers.


Jalilah | 4259 comments Mod
Considering I often don't like books where the narrator is dead and reminiscing about their lives, I really enjoyed this book!
I felt like Penelope's voice was believable the entire time.
Without a lot of descriptions, I really got a feel of what her life might have been like, and as well, got an impression of her personality.
My only criticism, but it is not really a criticism, was the way her cousin Helen, Helen of Troy, was portrayed. I had always thought of her as an innocent young girl married to an old, ugly man who meets the love of her life and risks everything to run away with him. I guess the movie with Brad Pitt made an impression on me as well. Atwood portrays Helen as vain, heartless, only interested in getting attention even if it means destroying people. Considering Penelope is such a well thought out believable character, I would have liked to see the same about Helen. Anyways it's still a great book and I know many of you have already read it, so I am looking forward to reading your thoughts!


Margaret | 3433 comments Mod
Jalilah wrote: "Considering I often don't like books where the narrator is dead and reminiscing about their lives, I really enjoyed this book!
I felt like Penelope's voice was believable the entire time.
Without..."


I agree about Helen. I want to imagine her as this really talented poet or something, and all these guys are like, "you're gorgeous! I want to possess you!" And she's like, I'm busy writing, mostly ignores them, and doesn't even really notice everything that's going on around her. She's too busy writing a poem about a dragonfly's wings. And then wow, looks like everyone might be dead?

Ha.


message 4: by Emily (last edited Sep 19, 2019 02:49AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Emily M | 135 comments I also found Helen disappointingly drawn.

(This is another pet peeve I have with Atwood sometimes -- beauty and brains, or an interest in fashion and brains are at times incompatible for her. In her novel Surfacing, which I otherwise loved, a woman gets a lot of flak for wearing too much makeup. I let it go with Surfacing, because it was written in the 70s, but it annoyed me again here. I was especially unconvinced that Helen would remain so defined by the men that chase her after death).


Margaret | 3433 comments Mod
Emily wrote: "I also found Helen disappointingly drawn.

(This is another pet peeve I have with Atwood sometimes -- beauty and brains, or an interest in fashion and brains are at times incompatible for her. In h..."


That's interesting. I appreciated The Robber Bride at lot because she did such a good job at characterizing three disparate women, and at least one wore a lot of makeup, but she was a well-rounded character. I did find Charlene (I think that was her name) in The Heart Goes Last a bit vapid, and she was obssessed with looks. That's partly why I didn't enjoy the novel.


Emily M | 135 comments Margaret wrote: "Emily wrote: "I also found Helen disappointingly drawn.

(This is another pet peeve I have with Atwood sometimes -- beauty and brains, or an interest in fashion and brains are at times incompatible..."


I haven't read the Robber Bride, or many other Atwood books, so I'm hopeful she doesn't always do this. I just saw Helen and thought, "grrrr, she's doing that anti-makeup thing again!"


message 7: by Julia (last edited Sep 20, 2019 01:38PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Julia (ultramarine) | 47 comments I totally agree with you about Helen! And if you compare her with Penelope it's getting even worse - Penelope is wise but rather plain, Helen is beautiful and vain. That's a shame it's so stereotypical in that case.

Jalilah wrote: "I felt like Penelope's voice was believable the entire time."

I agree that Penelope is a very complex and believable character, but at the same time, I am wondering if she is really believable as a narrator. You know, it felt to me she really wanted to redeem herself - so what if she whitened herself (hmm, I am not sure if that phrase functions in English, I mean, she presented herself as innocent even if she wasn't so?). What if she didn't care for her twelve maidens so much? The way maidens react to Penelope in Hades and things that Penelope said in that "court" chapter made me think so. Well, I don't know, that's just a thought, it's very possible I am overinterpreting it.

Anyway, before reading I thought Atwood wanted to give a voice to Penelope, but that was about these twelve maidens (completely voiceless in Odyssey) as well.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 723 comments I read the novel a couple of years ago and enjoyed it, but I was a little disappointed that it didn't go far enough in terms of developing a concept of sisterhood. The women align themselves with men or children--never with each other. Since Atwood injects feminist commentary intermittently throughout, I would have liked to have seen her carry it further by showing evidence of women supporting each other against a male-dominated system designed to oppress them.

My review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 9: by Janice (JG) (new) - added it

Janice (JG) | 34 comments I read this a couple months ago, and in truth I'm having a hard time recalling most of it... it didn't leave much of an impact. Still, I remember enjoying the voice Atwood gave Penelope (keep in mind the characterization of Helen is through Penelope, who had her own agenda), and I particularly enjoyed the Chorus / 12 maids. It was an easy and enjoyable read but, like I said, forgettable.


Jalilah | 4259 comments Mod
Janice (JG) wrote: "I read this a couple months ago, and in truth I'm having a hard time recalling most of it... it didn't leave much of an impact. Still, I remember enjoying the voice Atwood gave Penelope (keep in mi..."

Honestly, it's been just a few weeks since I read it, but I feel exactly the same way. It was a fast, enjoyable read but not memorable.


Annette | 246 comments I just finished this and I was underwhelmed. The story and the characters were too superficial.


Jalilah | 4259 comments Mod
Annette wrote: "I just finished this and I was underwhelmed. The story and the characters were too superficial."

I agree!


Michele | 520 comments Julia wrote: "I totally agree with you about Helen! And if you compare her with Penelope it's getting even worse - Penelope is wise but rather plain, Helen is beautiful and vain. That's a shame it's so stereotyp..."

I'm pretty sure that's how it is in the original story. I think she's just being faithful to her source material.


message 14: by Emily (last edited Nov 24, 2019 10:03AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Emily M | 135 comments Michele wrote: "I'm pretty sure that's how it is in the original story. I think she's just being faithful to her source material."

True, but I think the point of these rewrites is to question the source material in a little more depth than it is usually questioned, and to upack the idea that the source material was written by a man and sees womens' motivations from a man's perspective.

An article about Emily Wilson's Odyssey translation (which I seem to be evangelising all the time in this group) makes this point about the original:

"The poem contains foundational moments of misogyny, which Wilson does not soften, but is also rich and flexible enough to contain sophisticated female characters, notably Helen of Troy, now returned to her husband’s palace to become Helen of Sparta once more. She is certainly not to be quieted. She enters the poem just at the moment when her husband, Menelaus, has tactlessly made a visitor – young Telemachus – weep. “Shall I conceal my thoughts or speak?” she says. She does not wait for permission, but ploughs on, making clear that, unlike her husband, she has immediately recognised the boy, even though she last saw him “the day the Greeks marched off to Troy, their minds/fixated on the war and violence./ They made my face the cause that hounded them.” This last line is translated by Fagles as “shameless whore that I was”, and by Stephen Mitchell as “bitch that I was”. The Greek is kunopis, a rare word literally meaning dog-face, or dog-eye. There are few contexts in which to see this word in use, but it is applied by Euripides to the Furies, terrifying creatures that “hound” murderers. It does not carry, argues Wilson, the overtones of female sexual destructiveness that are often applied in its translation."

I guess my point is that Atwood could have done many clever things with Penelope and Helen (after all, this is a book in which twelve dead maids write an academic paper and sing a song), but chose to fall back on stereotypes instead.

Quote source:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 723 comments Emily wrote: "True, but I think the point of these rewrites is to question the source material in a little more depth than it is usually questioned, and to upack the idea that the source material was written by a man and sees womens' motivations from a man's perspective...."

I agree with you, Emily. I think one can use the original source but rewrite it from a woman's perspective, thereby opening it up to new ways of reading the material. It is amazing how giving women a voice can change one's perceptions.

BTW, you may already be aware of this but in March 2018 a group on goodreads was specifically formed to read and discuss Emily Wilson's translation. I was a member of the group and really enjoyed it. We had some wonderful discussions. It went dormant after we finished the book. But you may be interested in browsing through some of the discussions.

https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...


Julia (ultramarine) | 47 comments Emily wrote: "True, but I think the point of these rewrites is to question the source material in a little more depth than it is usually questioned, and to upack the idea that the source material was written by a man and sees womens' motivations from a man's perspective....."

Exactly. I think the point of retelling is to use the original story, but tell it on new terms. Penelopiad is a very modern retelling in which Atwood is trying to give voice to women - and at the same time she doesn't escape stereotypes in describing Penelope and Helen. I just find it quite disappointing.


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