Wednesday 13 February 2013

Book Review - The Penelopiad

I have enjoyed many of Margaret Atwood's books but have not read one in awhile. The idea of The Penelopiad intrigued me.

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 abduction of Helen, Penelope manages, in the face of scandalous rumors, to maintain the kingdom of Ithaca, bring up her wayward son, and keep over a hundred suitors at bay, simultaneously. 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 story-telling 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.

I had never read The Odyssey but Atwood gives a quick summary of the original story at the beginning of the book. It is interesting how the entire story is told by the long dead Penelope who still struggles to determined what happened and why.

The story is told much in the same style as ancient Greek drama's with a chorus line made up of the maids, singing, chanting and filling in some of the blanks in the story and bringing the story seamlessly together. Reminds me of the Greek dramas I took back in high school.

I really enjoyed the story, so much that I might go and read The Odyssey to learn that side of the story. Yes, most people would have done it the other way around but I thank Atwood for making me interested in the original story.

I like it when I read a book or story that takes me into another line of reading. The Penelopiad did this form me.

No comments: