Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood

# Paperback: 162 pages

# Publisher: Penguin Books (India)





The fabulous MYTH series, which includes Margaret Atwood's "Penelopiad" , was launched last October intending to give fresh life to some of the most timeless tales ( myths and epic poems) ever told.

Twelve high profile authors were invited by
Canon Gate to revisit and re-write these epics with a contemporary pen. Along with "Penelopiad" you can expect to find "Lion's Honey" (based on the myth of Samson) by David Grossman, "Weight" (The Myth of Atlas and Heracles) by Jeanette Winterson and "Dream Angus" (the Celtic God of Dreams) by Alexander McCall Smith. There are more, but these are the books I'm most interested in.

According to Homer's "The Odyssey" When the wily Greek hero Odysseus sailed for the Trojan war (after Paris of Troy stole Helen from her husband Menelaus, king of Sparta) he left behind his wife Penelope and young son. When when he returned after 20 odd years away, he immediately killed the suitors vying for his faithful wife's affections and fortunes and also hung her twelve maids.

In her introduction Atwood states that the maids' executions have never been satisfactorily explained in the Odyssey, and admits that the image of the twelve lynched girls has always haunted her, she therefore has chosen to give the telling of the story to Penelope and to the
twelve hanged Maids. The Maids form a chanting and singing Chorus (like a Greek chorus) which focuses on two questions that must pose themselves after any close reading of the Odyssey: what led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to? To solve the mystery she (Atwood) has drawn on material other than the Odyssey, especially for the details of Penelope's parentage, her early life and marriage, and the scandalous rumours circulating about her.

When I think of Homer's Odyssey the three characters that first spring to mind are the lovely
Helen of Troy, Paris her besotted suitor and Odysseus (ofcourse). Penelope hardly ever comes to mind, after all, who would remember a clever but rather dull person when one can have someone like Helen who is beautiful and dangerous. Also,being the paragon of virtue that Penelope was (she is supposed to have waited faithfully for Odysseus for nearly 20 years) she is a difficult role model for most women to aspire to. However, Margaret Atwood has taken her story, polished it up and guess what, I love the new Penelope!

She may be a strong woman, a clever woman and a faithful one, but through Atwood's pen you also see a vulnerable Penelope - one that couldn't trust her immediate family (her father, the King of Sparta, tried to drown her when she was a child) and one who was constantly overshadowed by her cousin Helen's beauty, but you also see a woman determined to be a faithful wife and a determined ruler and mother.

I found Atwood's retelling of the Odyssey to be highly imaginative, witty, clever, happily irreverant in parts and very colourful - she has given Penelope a voice that is both, sad and funny, but always engaging - I drank up the 160 pages in about as many minutes!

Reading this book, has made me crave for more of the books in the Myth Series, so if anyone wishes to trade some other book in the series for "The Penelopiad", please let me know! (I have Karen Armstrong's "A Short History of Myth", so I won't be needing that one)

36 comments:

Asha said...

YAY!! Lotus is back!!!I am so happy!!Great book LOtus.Loved the Daaku review too.

Foodies list: Shock and gasp! Forgot me?!:D:D

beenzzz said...

Lotus, this series sounds intriguing. I had always wondered how Penelope could remain faithful after 20 years without Odysseus. Afterall, he could have been dead. Then again, like you mentioned before, the maids might have known something. He certainly wasn't faithful to Penelope though!!!You're right, her character needed more explanation. I'm glad this author was able to do it.

Nessie said...

Oh, great! You got to it. Come comment on Short History of Myth when your done on my blog to see if we concur.

Lotus Reads said...

Hello Asha! Welcome back! As one of the founding members of your Foodie's Fan Club, how can I forget you, sweet Asha? :) It's just that I had to change my template and I am still getting all my links together. By Monday everything should be updated!

Hi, beenzzz! This really is an intriguing read and short and sweet, too! Am really glad you mentioned that Odysseus wasn't faithful to Penelope, I think I should include that in my review somewhere, it would make for interesting reading!

hi, Nessie I was right here responding to beenzz's comment I saw your comment come in! I believe I have read your 'Short History of Myth' post and from what I remember, you didn't like Atwood's take all that much, but I will be back to re-read it, thanks!

jenclair said...

I loved it! I'm so glad you liked it, too. I reviewed it on my other blog, before starting my book blog in January.

Lotus Reads said...

Jenclair Thanks so much for pointing me to your review. You bring a beautiful perspective to the book, I really enjoyed reading what you had to say. Thank you again!

Beloved Dreamer said...

This sounds wonderful and for me yet more TBR books to come. I had forgotten Penelope. So long ago. Sounds like M Atwood has put new spring in her step.lol
Thanks for your comment Lotus and ye that's me.

love-bd

Anocturne said...

i looove your new template. it looks a lot more organized, and the colors are calming - a perfect nook to snuggle and read up.

what i really liked about Penelopiad was how her story has several endings. was she really faithful? what really happened with the suitors? what did the old matron know? what did the maids know? everything seems to be implied, and each implication could be true. atwood, tusi great ho!

hellomelissa said...

greek mythology was one of my favorite college courses... i even did an independent study in art history on depictions of greek myths in modern art after delving into it.

this series sounds wonderful, and i loved your review of the book... it really brought the ideas to life.

Dorothy W. said...

This book sounds so interesting! And I love Karen Armstrong and would really like to read her Short History of Myth too.

equiano said...

Sounds lovely, will look out for it. Another re-telling, which dramatically changed my perspective of a character was Anita Diamant's THE RED TENT, which told from a completely fresh perspective the story of the biblical Dinah. In the Bible, it is the rape of Dinah (mentioned only in passing) which leads to a massacre. The Dinah of THE RED TENT is a totally different kettle of fish, and you'll also never think of Abraham and Isaac the same way either! A super read if you've not done so already!

Sai said...

Hey Lotus:
I do love the new look that you have for your blog.

This re-telling sounds very fascinating.

booklogged said...

I am feeling like a country bumpkin. I do know that my education is lacking when it comes to myths. I took a beginning mythology class my first year at college. There was nothing 'beginning' about it. Everyone knew so much and I was left in the dust. I passed the class with A- because I made a good casserole for the closing class period. I did learn that the secret was to appease the gods!

Anyway, this myth series sounds very worthwhile. I will look for them.

Nessie said...

I wasnt impressed with her language. I found it that it sounded as if she was having a mid life crisis. Not appropriate in the least.

Aneeta said...

off topic, yes, but it needs to be said. Nice layout! And welcome back.

tanabata said...

I haven't read any of the Myth series, although I keep hearing about it. Just wanted to say that I love your new template! :)

Lotus Reads said...

Beloved Oh, yes, do put this book on your wishlist, it's a good one!

Anocturne Thanks for peeking in! Glad you like the new template, I still miss my old one tho'. 'Tis true what you say about "The Penelopiad"...so many implications, which one is true? I did like Penelope however and thank goodness, the pretty woman (Helen) comes off looking quite vain and silly for once!

Melissa Given your background in Greek mythology it would be fun to see what you think of this series in general and 'The Penelopiad' in particular...

Dorothy This book was a delight to read mostly because Atwood has such a wicked imagination and is so clever with words. I'd like to make time to read something by Karen Armstrong, she has some amazing insights.

Equiano I have had two copies of "The Red Tent" pass through my hands unread. You sure make me regret passing those books on. I will have to get myself another copy and this time I'm going to make sure I read it. Thank you!

Sai Thanks, Sai, glad you like it! This beta version is a delight to use.

Lotus Reads said...

booklogged You crack me up! :) That casserole must have been quite something! Hey, do you have a cooking blog...I'd love to steal some of your recipes.

Nessie *grin* She's certainly irreverant and cheeky in parts (are you thinking of the bedpost joke? :) but that's Atwood for you, ever inventive and always pushing the boundaries of language.

Aneeta Thank you! How lovely to see you! What is the current status of your second novel? I'm really excited for you!

Nat Thanks so much! This beta version allows you to be more creative...however I'd love to learn how to customize the background a little.

Susan in Italy said...

This sounds fascinating! It reminds me a lot of a book I read in college, Cassandra by Krista Wolf. The story of the Trojan War told very differently (non-patriarchally) from the perspective of Cassandra.

Kucki said...

While I have the Penelopaid I was not aware that this is a whole series. Thanks for pointing that out. I will have to check out the others.

je m'amuse said...

Lotus,

Sounds absolutely refreshing! I'll have to put this one on my to read list. Thanks.

ML said...

Fascinating! I, myself, never gave much to Penelope either. But, your review has my attention.

Angela in Europe said...

I really love Margaret Atwood. Handmaid's Tale changed my outlook on life. Did I tell you I saw her at the writer's conference I went to in September? My, but her French was bad.

If you like myth stories, perhaps you should read some Gregory Maguire (you probably have). He takes classic fairy tales and tells them from another point of view.

Lucy said...

I'm mostly a lurker (love your blog). I've been reading the myth series books as they come out and I've enjoyed each one. I think I liked "Weight" better than Penelopiad but M. Atwood has always irriated me a bit (I love her and hate her - I've read most of her books except a few of the more recent ones - so maybe I love her more than I hate her.) :-) Anyway, all that to say that I really enjoy the Myth Series and look forward to more and more books being published.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi Susan Yeay, I have one more book to look forward to, thanks for the heads up!

Welcome kucki Random's "Myth" series and Harper's "Eminent Lives" series are two of my favorite series at the moment. The fact that they're short and sweet is very attractive to me! :)

Hey, no problem, je m'amuse hope you enjoy the read!

Hi ml This is book #3 from my Stacks reading Challenge, 2 to go. How are you faring?

HiAngela I think you mentioned you were going to be seeing Margaret Atwood and I remember being so envious! :) Yes, I am told when Canadians speak French in France they are laughed at!

Hi Lucy and welcome! I'm so very glad you stopped by and dropped me a comment. I'm really excited to know you liked "Weight", I'm definitely going to have to get myself a copy. I know what you mean, I have a love-hate relationship with Margaret Atwood,too. She's such a clever writer, but sometimes her writing reveals that she's all too aware of her intellect, you know?

I look forward to paying you a visit soon.

Bookfool said...

Finally!!! I can see your blog!

I've just tagged you for a meme: Six Weird Things About Me. I don't see it on your blog, so I hope you haven't already done this one!!!

I must not have been the only person having trouble with your blog, eh? Glad you're back, then!!!

J said...

I loved the Odyssey in grad school...and I read this book last year, and loved it too!

For another book with different perspectives, for those of you who are "Gone With The Wind" fans, I really liked "The Wind Done Gone". :)

Carl V. said...

What a clever idea for a book series. Really has alot of potential!

Anali said...

I love the idea of myths, but I haven't read many at all. I feel like I need a "Cliff Notes" version of these before I jump into deeper waters. Maybe this is one of my New Year's Resolutions...

Anonymous said...

Hi Lotus a.c.t. here, I couldn't leave a comment under my identity for some reason - something to do with Google. I've only read A handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood and I really enjoyed it. I'd like to read another of her books but something similar, could you recommend any?

Carl V. said...

I had to go into my old blogspot site and update it and create a google account in order to be able to post on any blogspot sites today.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi bookfool Soooo good to see you here again! Hope this is the last of our blogger problems for a while, but that's being too optimistic, no? :) I'll be very glad to do your meme, just give me a few. THanks for tagging me!

Hi J Love the title "The Wind Done Gone", :) I'm definitely going to have to look for it, thanks!

Hi Carl This is the only one of the series I have read, but from what I read on other blogs and reviews etc. this is a good series, so I look forward reading some of the others.

Hi Anali! Apart from Indian mythological stories which I was taught at my mother's knee, I haven't done much mythology reading either, this series is a great way to discover some of those classic epics! Let's do it together!

hi a.c.t. So sorry blogger wouldn't let you in, Carl seems to have had the same problem so hopefully it was a blogger glitch which has been fixed.

I haven't read too many Atwoods but the ones I've read, I've loved. They are: "The Handmaid's Tale", "The Oryx and Crake" and now, "The Penelopiad". Her new one, "Moral Disorders" is receiving great reviews. People also rave about "The Blind Assasin" which I would love to read next. I hope you like her as much as I do, a.c.t.!

Hi, Carl Thanks so much for letting us know. I've had some problems with my blog recently so I would have been concerned that the problems had followed me to my new residence!

Sugarlips said...

I'm gonna get my hands on this book as soon as possible :)

Stay Beautiful...!!

ML said...

Lotus, I'm still on book 2 of the Winter Reading Challenge - Birth House. I have no real excuse except I'm overwhelmed with getting stuff done for Christmast. Sigh, I wish I could sew and read at the same time. I can make caramel and read at the same time, so why not everything else :)

Lotus Reads said...

And what pretty hennaed hands those are too, Sugarlips! ;)

Hi, ml Not to worry, you have good company in me. I am just halfway through book 4 and with the Christmas rush, there's no way I can complete the challenge. *gasp* You sew as well? You are one talented lady, you know! I've been telling everybody about the candy you made...wish I lived closer.

shashikiran Mullur said...

Seems interesting. Thanks. I wouldn't have found it myself.