Lady Summerisle (strange_complex) wrote,
Lady Summerisle

7. Margaret Atwood (2005), The Penelopiad

I read this book because a) it is about me my mythological namesake, b) my Mum bought it for me two Christmases ago, knowing that it would appeal to me for that reason, and c) I've always vaguely thought I ought to read something by Margaret Atwood.

It's basically Penelope's side of the story, as the title suggests. She is the narrator, speaking from the Underworld, and she tells us how she felt, what she knew when and why she did what she did from her childhood up to the return of Odysseus. There's a special emphasis on the twelve household maids which Telemachus hangs on Odysseus's orders at the end of Book 22 of the Iliad. In Homer, they've been rude and insolent to Eurycleia (Odysseus' childhood nurse) and Penelope, and have slept with several of the suitors. In The Penelopiad, they were Penelope's secret eyes and ears about the house, and most of them had been raped. So Atwood sets out to tell their side of the story, too - and in particular breaks up Penelope's narrative with a series of Greek-style dramatic Choruses, delivered by the maids in formats ranging from the ballad and the sea shanty to the idyll and the court-room trial.

Thing is, that's about it. That's the plot and structure of the book, it's all done perfectly plausibly and readably, and I really don't have anything much else to say about it. There wasn't really anything in it which surprised me, wowed me or challenged me. Well, there was one of the Maids' Choruses, done in the style of an anthropology lecture, where I had to grit my teeth a bit as I was presented with a reading of Odysseus' return as the over-throw of a matriarchal society led by Penelope - an interpretation which Atwood credits in her closing note to Robert Graves' famously *koff* 'creative' The Greek Myths. But apart from that, it was fine. Just fine. Did exactly what it said on the tin.

I suppose I was hoping for something a bit more epic and creative. Maybe the problem is that Penelope - much as I would wish otherwise - is not really the most exciting of characters. Atwood chooses to keep her basically in line with Homer's characterisation, apart from having hidden feelings and motives which Homer and his male characters overlook. So alternate possibilities like her becoming the mother of Pan are out of the window, and you're left with a pretty passive heroine, really - even if you do grant her intelligence that Homer doesn't.

Oh well - anyway, I've read it now. Whether I'll read more Atwood is likely to depend on whether anyone particularly persuasive attempts to talk me into it or not.

Tags: books, books read 2007, greek mythology, my name, reviews

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