Book Review – The Penelopiad

By Margaret Atwood
Started: 5th August 2014
Finished: 8th August 2014

I have never read anything by Margaret Atwood, however I have always wanted to read her work. The Penelopiad is featured on one of my reading lists, and I’m very pleased that this was the first Atwood book that I have been exposed to.

The Penelopiad is the story of Odysseus and Penelope but from Penelope’s point of view. In the afterlife, Penelope has heard all the different versions of events that the mortals have told – and wants to set the record straight. She recounts her tale with the help of her twelve maids. From when she was born and tossed into the sea, to her marriage to Odyssues and being left alone whilst he was off fighting in the Trojan war.

I really loved Penelope and the way she told her story. It was with such frankness sometimes, that I couldn’t help but laugh. I already vaguely knew of the story, but I didn’t know much about Penelope herself… So it was nice to hear this tale from her side (or so to speak). She was a fascinating character and had a great attitude towards her situation. She’s a very weepy character, however I didn’t find it annoying because of how she was presented. Which is a stark contrast against her cousin Helen, whose personality isn’t as beautiful as her face. Odysseus is also portrayed in a slightly different way to what we may already know. Although he isn’t featured in it heavily, which is not a bad thing and was expected.

It wasn’t just a straightforward story, which is what I enjoyed the most about this book. The story is told in just under 200 pages. There are short chapters with titles that are very succinct and self explanatory. Amongst the chapters told by Penelope are ballads, and chorus lines and lectures told by the twelve maids that Odysseus and Telemachus killed. They were a great addition to the story, and really made it a joy to read. For some reason I always had these musical sequences playing out in my head whilst I was reading them. It was a nice twist on all the classic ballads and songs that would have been originally one of the ways this story was told (which is referenced to often throughout the book).

Personally, I would have liked to have seen a bit more detail where some things were concerned. Especially when it comes to their son, Telemachus, and when Odysseus is away, I feel as though there was a lot more details given at the start of the book. I also found that as I don’t know the myth of Odysseus all that well (I know the basics and understood what was happening in the story in relation to the myth) so sometimes I felt I was missing some references because of that. However I would say you can still enjoy the novel for what it is without needing a great deal of information about the myth itself – I just hope my lack of knowledge didn’t have me missing something interesting to lovers of Greek myth.

All in all it’s a great book and I’m looking forward to studying it. It has also made me eager to read another Margaret Atwood novel in the future.

Rating: 4/5

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