The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
I opened this book with the intention of reading a retelling of The Odyssey, but what I ended up embarking upon was the re-reading of a tale that was retold twice. It is not only a revision of The Odyssey, but it is also a rewritten account of Penelope’s story. After a few chapters I realized that everything was surprisingly familiar. Goodreads confirmed that I, indeed, had read this book before. Skim reading through the book the first time, resulted in a mediocre impression of the book. However, I was able to appreciate this book better the second time, having a little more wisdom and being a little more patient, I could almost hear Margaret Atwood laughing aloud as she wrote it.
The book is inventive, clever, and fascinating. Sarcasm is littered throughout the book on the levels of the author, the attitude, and Penelope herself. Written in a conversational tone, the pages fly by as the readers are woven into this alternate history. The witty feminism, social commentary, and cultural references are littered throughout the book and they are easy to miss. The Penelopiad is a lyrical exploration of the character of Penelope, as well as her twelve maids. While Penelope’s story, as well as her family background, is interesting, I enjoyed the perspective of the maids the most.
This book leaves many questions unanswered, such as Penelope’s infidelity, but it mixes old and new in an intricate and enjoyable take on a well told legend. I have a deep respect for Atwood’s cleverness (see my review on The Heart Goes Last). If this book doesn’t appeal to you for its cleverness alone, the book provides a stimulating image of Penelope that forces you to question the validity of both this story and the myth of Odysseus. I am thoroughly glad I forgot about this gem, so that I could discover this book with a new light and mindset.
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