For Penelope, wife of Odysseus, running a kingdom while her husband is off fighting the Trojan war is not a simple business. As if it isn’t bad enough that he has been lured away due to the shocking behaviour of her beautiful cousin Helen, Penelope must also bring up her wayward son, face down scandalous rumours and keep more than one hundred lustful, greedy, bloodthirsty suitors at bay… perhaps not surprising then that it all ends in murder.
As a huge (and fairly new fan) of Greek mythology The Penelopiad has been on my to read list for a while now. Told in the voice of Penelope deceased and in Hades, she recounts Odysseus twenty year absence during the Trojan War and his long journey home. Describing her time on Ithaca and the challenges of the suitors who she believed were after her fortune and her maturing son, Telemachus, this is the story of a noble woman surviving in a patriarchal society during her husband’s lengthy absence.
Interspersed between the chapters are the ‘chorus’ of the twelve maids, killed by Odysseus and Telemachus on Odysseus’ return for being disloyal. Penelope offered a voice to these women I think, as did their own song; female slaves who were used by the suitors, raped, but then punished by death for this happening without the permission of their owner. Penelope referenced this dichotomy more than once towards the end of the story.
In contrast to this Penelope spoke of Helen with vitriol, blaming her for the Troyan War and thus the absence of Odysseus and for continuing to exploit her beauty, even in the afterlife. Aspects of the story leaned towards feminism in terms of the female voice and the female experience, however power and class were also significant.
The book for me was entertaining and witty and I liked it a lot, very short taking not much longer than a couple of hours to read, it offered an alternative narrative to the notion of Odysseus as a hero, I was amused that his absences continued even in Hades. Very accessible and I think an excellent introduction to Greek mythology, I think this book was written to entertain, to be playful and in this it hugely succeeded.
Another recommended read from the world of Loved Reading This!
About the Author
Margaret Attwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa, and grew up in northern Ontario and Quebec, and in Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master’s degree from Radcliffe College.
Margaret Attwood, whose work has been published in more than forty – five countries, is the author of more than fifty books of fiction, poetry, critical essays and graphic novels. Her latest novel, The Testaments, is a co – winner of the 2019 Booker Prize. It is the long awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, now an award winning TV series. Her other works of fiction include Cat’s Eye, finalist for the 1989 Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; The MaddAddam Trilogy; and Hag-Seed. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the Franz Kafka International Literary Prize, the PEN Centre USA Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award.
She lives in Toronto.