Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood (3.5 stars)

From Amazon: In Homer's "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 abduction of Helen, Penelope manages, in the face of scandalous rumours, to maintain the kingdom of Ithaca, bring up her wayward son, and keep over a hundred suitors at bay. When Odysseus finally comes home after enduring hardships, overcoming monsters and sleeping with goddesses, he kills her suitors and - curiously - twelve of her maids.

In a splendid contemporary twist to the ancient story, Margaret Atwood has chosen to give the telling of it to Penelope and to her twelve hanged maids, asking: 'What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?' In Atwood's dazzling, playful retelling, the story becomes as wise and compassionate as it is haunting, and as wildly entertaining as it is disturbing. With wit and verve, drawing on the storytelling and poetic talent for which she herself is renowned, she gives Penelope new life and reality - and sets out to provide an answer to an ancient mystery.

(Part of The Myths series. Details from the book: The Myths series brings together some of the world’s finest writers, each of who has retold a myth in a contemporary and memorable way. Authors in the series include: Chinua Achebe, Margaret Atwood, Karen Armstrong, AS Byatt, David Grossman, Milton Hatoum, Victor Pelevin, Donna Tartt, Su Tong, and Jeanette Winterson.)


Prior to this, I had only read one Margaret Atwood book, Oryx and Crake. I was enchanted with her writing and interesting view of the world. When I found The Penelopiad at the bookstore not long after, I knew I had to read another Atwood book. This might not have been the best pick, however.

Although the story is entertaining and witty, I felt like I needed a better background in mythology or at least should have read Homer’s Odyssey to more fully engage. But, this book has one of the better opening lines I’ve read recently: Now that I’m dead I know everything.

Penelope, and at times the twelve maids, narrates the story about her long-suffering wait for the return of her husband, Odysseus. In a twist, Penelope tells her tale from Hades and in a more modern setting, as she has been dead for centuries. This added an intriguing element, particularly when Penelope comments on modern ways and the diminished role of gods and goddesses. Better yet, Penelope is there with Helen of Troy, her cousin and the well known beauty who enjoys watching Penelope squirm. The fact that they are still fighting centuries later is hilarious.

I wanted to love this book, but it felt choppy and rushed. I think if I had read Homer’s work and brushed up on my mythology facts, I would have enjoyed it so much more. At 193 pages, it felt more like a novella/short story. With such an intriguing concept, I wanted more details as well as an increased anticipation on how it would unfold.

If you are a mythology guru and love a quick, interesting read, you should pick this book up and consider it more of a 4.5. Otherwise, I’d look into some of Atwood’s other works. I know I will.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Note: The story was closer to a 4 than a 3, so I will list it as a 4-star rating on GoodReads and Amazon.

This book was part of my 2012 TBR (To Be Read) Pile Challenge. Now, I only have ten more to read the rest of the year. No pressure!


Beth said...

The only book I've read by here is The Handmaid's Tale. That was way back in the 80s for a college class. Strange but I enjoyed it and you should add it to your to-read list.

Tia Bach said...

Wasn't that one made into a movie? Or am I imagining it? I'll definitely add it to my TBR list!

Morgan said...

Thanks for the review, Tia! I enjoyed reading this ;)

Tia Bach said...

Thanks for saying so, Morgan!