BLURB: ‘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 is all ends in murder.’
READ IF YOU LIKE: Classic tales, one-sitting reads, feminist empowerment, the Odyssey
PAGE COUNT: Approx 198
STAR RATING: ★★★★☆
This book is completely perfect for both Atwood lovers and Homer lovers. It’s not one of her most well-known books, however you can see her classic writing style running through the whole book, with her twisting similes and slick one liners (‘Now I am dead I know everything’ is the opening line) making it just as good as some of her most well known stuff.
This book takes heavy influence from Homer’s epic poem ‘The Odyssey’ written around 8th century BC. Atwood gives her tale from the perspective of Penelope, Odysseus’s wife who he leaves behind when he goes on his twenty year journey. In Homer’s Odyssey, his journey takes up the bulk of the book, leaving Penelope and her story in Ithaca. Thus, this book provides a completely alternative perspective on his wife who in Homer’s rendition is somewhat of a doormat, waiting patiently and loyally for her husband to return from war. In Atwood’s version, Penelope is clever, sometimes whiney, scheming, and often has her doubts about keeping loyalty to her husband. It puts an empowering twist on the passive female character, giving her a witty and satirical voice, however retains classical themes, characters, and often writing style. For example, Penelope’s chapters are interspersed with poems, coming from the voices of the twelve hanged maidens, who act as a sort of Chorus to Penelope’s story.
By no means should you have read the Odyssey before reading this book. However, it is amazing to use as a feminist reading of the classic tale, and is an example of one of the many many texts the Odyssey has inspired. I was very much aided by the fact I had read the Odyssey before, as of course there are strong references throughout, as well as to other sources of Greek mythology. Although Atwood’s character of Penelope is of course not part of Homer’s original story, I finished it feeling like I had gained knowledge of both sides of the story, and was somewhat turned against the lovely Odysseus Homer describes in his original work.
This book is one of those small gems you may not have heard of, but combined with the original story of the Odyssey and many other Greek God tales, it provides an empowering and poignant commentary on the lack of autonomy Homer gave the original Penelope. Doubled with this, Atwood’s quick writing style makes it funny, colloquial and a very satisfying to read.