Now that all the others have run out of air, it’s my turn to do a little story-making.
In Homer’s account in The Odyssey, Penelope—wife of Odysseus and cousin of the beautiful Helen of Troy—is portrayed as the quintessential faithful wife, her story a salutary lesson through the ages. Left alone for twenty years when Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan War after the abduction of Helen, Penelope manages, in the face of scandalous rumors, to maintain the kingdom of Ithaca, bring up her wayward son, and keep over a hundred suitors at bay, simultaneously. When Odysseus finally comes home after enduring hardships, overcoming monsters, and sleeping with goddesses, he kills her suitors and—curiously—twelve of her maids.
In a splendid contemporary twist to the ancient story, Margaret Atwood has chosen to give the telling of it to Penelope and to her twelve hanged maids, asking: “What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?” In Atwood’s dazzling, playful retelling, the story becomes as wise and compassionate as it is haunting, and as wildly entertaining as it is disturbing. With wit and verve, drawing on the story-telling and poetic talent for which she herself is renowned, she gives Penelope new life and reality—and sets out to provide an answer to an ancient mystery.
**The links to the book used in this post are Affiliated links, should you click on my links and use them to purchase this book, it will gain me some monies, and will cost you nothing, but gotta disclose this first.**
Canongate feeds my addiction to their Canon myths, and I couldn’t be happier with my dealer of choice lolol.
But honestly, I do love fiction like this, where it’s quiet, where it demands attention to every page, and it reworks an idea that people haven’t dared to touch in centuries. Not to say there haven’t been adaptations of The Odyssey but this was my first read of one and I was so delighted that this was focused on Penelope.
She was held to such a high standard in some myths, the epitome of what a wife should be. But she was also seen in another light as someone who was unfaithful to her husband, and ‘evil’ for it. [Despite the fact that we know that man was the definition of like a man-slut. But hey, double standards…
FUCK THE PATRIARCHY, okay back to my review]
Atwood is a fantastic author, I have always admired her, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is such a provocative and important read to me personally, and so I knew she would do this story justice.
It’s not about the plot, it’s not about action or really the Odyssey, this is about Penelope, her background, her life as the wife of someone who was so admired, and what her presence faces in consequence of it all.
Atwood knocks it out of the park with her take of Penelope and the twelve maids who serve as the traditional Greek chorus interspersed throughout the novel.
Penelope is able to speak freely which is representative of our more modern times [well how it should be, but I’ll get off my soapbox] she’s able to present to us how things were seen through such a male perspective and how this cost twelve maids their lives. But she’s not entirely free of persecution in this, she must ‘live’ with her own guilt.
The story is short but it’s a languid read, you don’t have to rush through it, you can take your time on the story, and reflect in what Penelope is laying out our feet.
I adored this, and because of its slow pacing and the fact that the drive and focus of this is just Penelope being able to tell us her side of things, it’s not a novel with a particular plot.
I loved it, it was amazing for me, not for everyone, but amazing for me nonetheless and I gave it four huge cups of hot chocolate. Thank you to Canongate for the copy in exchange for my honest opinion.