The Penelopiad – Margaret Atwood
March 15, 2010 § 18 Comments
I wanted happy endings in those days, and happy endings are best achieved by keeping the right doors locked and going to sleep during the rampages.
This is the fourth book in the Canongate Myths Series that I’ve read, and incidentally, my first Margaret Atwood. The Penelopiad is the retelling of the myth of Penelope and Odysseus, with Penelope as our narrator. She tells us her story from the world of the dead. She is relating her story to us in our time, modern day; her story that took place those thousands of years ago. She tries to tell us, what really happened during the years when Odysseus was not around? Why did he hang the twelve maids when he got back? What exactly was she thinking?
I didn’t know anything about this myth when I started this book. I only vaguely knew the names of Penelope and Odysseus, and I had heard of a bit more the name of Penelope’s cousin, the Helen of Troy. But right at the beginning of the book, Atwood puts people like me at ease, with a very brief introduction of what the original myth might have been like, and she also tells us exactly what she aims to do with her own retelling of the myth.
Atwood tells us that she focuses on two questions:
What led to the hanging of the maids?
What was Penelope really up to?
Did the book really answer those questions? I don’t think so. Nor do I actually believe that there was supposed to be any concrete resolution at the end. The beauty of the books in the Myths Series, (so far that I’ve read) is that the journey of exploring the possibilities behind the myths is given the priority and emphasis. It’s the question of “What if this happened instead of that?” It’s about taking a story that we might have known and heard of for so long, and giving it a slight spin or twist, looking at it from a different perspective; almost like picking up a toy car that’s been sitting on the shelf all these years, and looking underneath it to see what it might have been hiding.
Atwood’s style in this book reminded me a little of Jeanette Winterson. And I’ve found Winterson’s work to be rather fascinating. So it was good to read another writer whose style I could kind of relate to and recognise. I’m not sure if Atwood’s other works are like this, so I’m really keen on trying The Handmaid’s Tale, which I’ve been told is a must-read.
Reading this book has also kind of convinced me to try Homer’s The Odyssey. Though I’m still a little intimidated by it. Has anyone read The Odyssey? What did you think of it?
So anyway, back to this book. It’s a good one, I think. It made me work a little in between chapters when I didn’t know if Penelope the narrator was talking about her story in the past, or of herself in the present. I thought the added dimension of Penelope in that world of the dead/spirits was interesting, not something I had expected when I started reading.