Atwood is a shrewd and witty writer and this book shows her at the top of her form. She transmutes her unwieldy source material - Homer's Odyssey - into a playful, honestly felt exploration of the foundations of love and family. Here the heroic becomes human and the humdrum underpinnings of legend are exposed.
Penelope chafes against posterity and how it exemplifies her as the faithful, stay-at-home wife. She's not interested in being an archetype; she's remembering the awkward in-laws, her uncouth teenage son, Odysseus' stubby legs. Homer sings hymns to Odysseus and his wily ways; Atwood shows us what it's like to be married to a dishonest man. Helen of Troy is here too (she's Penelope's cousin) and she's just like you knew she really would be - vapid, catty, only real when reflected in a man's eyes.
Running beneath the humour is the story of everything that Penelope has lost: her home, her husband, her youth, her friends, her life, her truth. Our narrator is a weary shade, viewing the world from the dim, grey realm of Hades. But having left behind life, she's also left behind the illusions that go with it. Dead she might be but her vision is clear, her humour is bone-dry, and her story is full-blooded.
If you've read the Odyssey, this novel will mean all the more to you. If you haven't, it will inspire you to search out 3,000 year-old Greek epic poetry. Either way, treasure this book.