Review: The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad has been on my tbr list for quite some time and I wanted to read it for our Read a Myth challenge. Luckily Bellezza and Col hosted a readalong, and I finally moved this book to the top of my list. I’m a bit late with posting the review, but better late than never I guess.

Now, first up a confession: I have not read The Odyssey. However unforgivable that might be, I like to think that I know enough of the stories to ‘get’ The Penelopiad. This is the fourth book by Atwood that I’ve read, the others are The Handmaid’s Tale, The Blind Assassin and Oryx & Crake. And they are all absolutely amazing.

The Penelopiad is Atwood playing around with the character of Penelope, Odysseus’ long-suffering wife. Atwood gives a voice to virtuous and constant Penelope and imagines her side of the story. We learn about Penelope’s life before her marriage, about her thoughts on her husband’s adventures (the cyclops here becomes a tavern owner and their fight about an unpaid bill, and Circe’s island a whorehouse) and her relationship with her cousin Helen. Poor Penelope, her husband is off fighting and sleeping around, Helen can be relied on to make a mess of things and her son grows up to be one annoying teenager. Still, somehow she manages to run a household and more official affairs.

Penelope’s narrative is interrupted by the chorus of the twelve maids, who seem to have been on Atwood’s mind a lot. No wonder, considering they were raped, slaughtered and hanged! While Penelope’s status in a patriarchal society is quite low, she is still a princess and much better off than her maids. Their rape is nothing unusual apparently but not asking their master’s permission is unacceptable. The maids are female slaves and as such their murder is all about property.

I enjoyed Atwood’s retelling and her emphasis on class and gender issues, but The Penelopiad is actually also a very funny novella and the last chapter is more than a little ironic. I hope I’m not alone in that opinion but since I also find American Psycho funny, my sense of humor might be considered a bit weird by some people.

Other thoughts:


Dolce Bellezza

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

The Read-A-Myth Reading Challenge

Jo at Bibliojunkie and I are hosting The Read A Myth Reading Challenge 2011 (January 1 till December 31) and I’m very excited about it. Myths are how story-telling started and with this challenge we want to re-discover the classic myths and folklore tales and explore how they are represented and re-invented in contemporary literature. We hope that you’ll join us in reading the myths! Once you start looking at books to check if they could fit this challenge, you’ll see that there are so many that cover myths or rework them (remember Shaw’s Pygmalion?), and that this might also be the chance to explore myths from other countries and cultures. To give you an idea, take a look at the Canongate myth series, which would fit this challenge perfectly


You’re also welcome to cross-post with other challenges, rereads are welcome, and you do not need to have a list ready to sign up. These are the challenge levels (you’re welcome to level up anytime):

Level 1 Athena: That’s a Myth!
Read any two (2) books about myths.

Level 2 Erlang Chen: Demystify the Myth!
Read any four (4) books about myths.

Level 3 Mimir: World Myth!
Read any 6 books from the myth series must covers 2 different countries, including any one from the following list:

  • non-fiction book on the study of mythology (figure), or
  • Karen Armstrong’s A short history of myth, or
  • The original text of myth (many to choose from the Greek Mythology)

Level 4 Ogma: The God of all Myths!
Mix and match of any 8 books from the myth series or any mythology books, with the following conditions:

  • Must cover more than 3 countries.
  • Must contain at least 1 non-fiction book on mythology study.

I hope this sounds interesting enough that you’ll give our challenge a try. You won’t be hit by lightning if you don’t complete your level, though there are bookish prizes for those who make it 🙂 I love reading about the myths, especially how creatively some authors re-tell them, but somehow never got around to it (because there are so many other interesting books). But hosting this challenge seemed like the push I needed, and maybe that’s how others feel as well!?

For more info about the challenge, buttons and to sign up, please visit the Read-A-Myth blog! I know we’ll have lots of fun with this challenge, and please spread the word! 🙂