Wednesday 24 June 2020

Book Review: The Penelopiad

This book was my first read of the summer and it’s safe to say that it didn’t disappoint. One of its strengths was definitely the accessibility of the prose; I liked the short chapters and the sections of poetry. Taking a well-known, complex text, Homer’s Iliad, and retelling it in a simple way is certain to draw readers to the original text. It works in both ways, as readers new to Greek mythology would enjoy this text, but it is also an interesting read for people who are familiar with Homer’s Iliad and are aware of the story of Odysseus and his dutiful wife, Penelope.

Another strong point of the book is how Atwood includes the perspective of Penelope’s maids that Odysseus hangs in the original text. Her introductory note explains that the maids stuck in her mind after she read Homer’s text so she wanted to explore the idea of their voices gaining prevalence. This is expressed through poetic interludes woven with Penelope’s chapters. However, something I would have liked to see is the interactions and relationships explored further between Penelope and certain maids. Atwood hints at a deeper relationship between Penelope and Melantho of the Pretty Cheeks, but I would have liked to have seen more of their interactions.

Penelope is a likeable character with depth; we as readers are introduced to the nuances of her intelligent, skilful personality. Seeing her perspective of her interactions with Odysseus and her son Telemachus is clearly refreshing and adds an additional layer to Homer’s text. I also liked how her relationship with Helen of Troy is presented: the rivalry between them, once again, adds a further layer to the Homeric epic. Penelope resides in the Underworld and is telling her story of her time alive, so we can see a clear comparison of how her familial and plutonic interactions have changed between her time alive and in the Underworld.

Overall, this novel is really worth a read. If you’re looking for a concise, easy read that’s also simultaneously brimming with complex character relationships and emotions, this fits the bill perfectly. If you are already a fan of Greek mythology but any retellings have gone to the bottom of your reading pile, this novel will definitely kickstart your interest in the genre again. If you are interested in more myth retellings, The Penelopiad is part of a myth series from Canongate Books.

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