Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Penelopiad by M. Atwood, A Review

What would you do if your husband took a wrong turn on his way home, lost his ship, got tripped up by goddesses, and along the way fought a few battles. . .?

The Penelopiad Cover, by Margaret Atwood 

The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus * is well-known, but how did the lady feel about it? Waiting all that time. . .was she true, or did she have lovers? Rumors were rampant. And those twelve maids, were they helping their mistress, or undermining her authority? It's a matter of viewpoint.

In The Penelopiad. . .we hear the other side

As the years stretched out and Odysseus didn't return, Penelope tired of keeping the suitors fed, entertained and out of trouble. Caught in her falsehood about the shawl that she weaves and pulls apart, she must set a date and a requirement for the husband to replace Odysseus. (see * below)

If you remember the mythology or epic poetry from some time in your past, you may remember how Penelope resolved the matter. In Atwood's version, we are treated to Penelope's skewed reasoning and patient acceptance of the crosses she must bear (Odysseus' roaming adventures and her cousin, Helen of Troy). 

Ideas and themes discussed include the double standard between the sexes and classes, the fairness of justice, and competitively antagonistic female relationships. Using the viewpoint of Penelope, this story takes on a different angle, less ominous. One that rings truer to life. The truth of any subject is determined by your perspective.

The Penelopiad has been translated into 28 languages around the globe. Some critics think the writing of this book typical of Atwood, while others found some aspects disagreeable, e.g., the chorus of maids near the end of the book. I tend to agree with those in the second group. I recommend it, if you like mythology.


* The Odyssey, one of two ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer, centers on the Greek hero, Odysseus and his journey home after the fall of Troy. It takes Odysseus ten years to reach Ithaca after the ten year Trojan War. It is assumed he has died, and therefore his wife Penelope and son Telemachus must deal with an unruly group of suitors who compete for Penelope's hand in marriage.


Have you read this book or any book by Margaret Atwood? Do you like books that spoof fairy tales and myth?

Please leave a comment to let me know you were here, and I'll respond. Thanks for dropping by!

References: - Wiki on The Penelopiad Homer's Odyssey