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Part of the Canongate Myths series, where myths are retold, so we have Margaret Atwood’s contribution, one based on Penelope, Odysseus’s wife. Based around the Odyssey, so Penelope awaits the return of her husband, and in the original version has come to be known as the perfect doting wife. But now, with this novella we see Penelope speak out from the other side of the Styx.

Presented as a normal prose tale as such, there are intervals where we hear the chorus, mirroring in many ways traditional Classical Greek drama. Taking in many themes and ideas, as well as genres, so the story that we are told here, by a woman who has been dead for many centuries, does show a certain amount of wry humour, as the story is retold for us.

Did Odysseus really do all the things that is claimed in the Odyssey – or have they been rather blown out of proportion? Was the killing of for instance Cyclops more of a tavern brawl over payment?

Presented as it is here with a normal narrative, but with added scenes from the chorus, this does make for an interesting and relatively quick read, that is quite enjoyable. I would personally think that you do not have to be fully knowledgeable on the Odyssey, or the way that ideas have changed over the centuries with regards to Helen and the whole Troy battles, but it does help if you at least understand a bit about what the original text is, and have a vague idea of current thoughts on someone like Helen of Troy.
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on 11 August 2016
A clever retelling of the story of Penelope and Odysseus, from Penelope's perspective of course. The narrative moves between Hades, where Penelope currently resides, and the past, where we hear of Penelope's life focusing on her marriage and life after. Interwoven with this we hear from the twelve maids, whose significance become more and more apparent as the story progresses. The maids act as the classic Greek chorus and contribute their voices via poetry.

Atwood's agenda is clearly feminist, it is a reconsidering of the Iliad after all and she does move the spotlight from Odysseus to Penelope, the long-suffering wife. Through her Penelope tears apart Homer's epic, presenting Helen of Troy as a sexual predator whose personality borders on sociopathic and Orpheus as being glad to rid himself of a shrewish and nagging Eurydice.

Stylistically speaking the mix of bawdy ditties from the maids, the almost catfight nature of Penelope's relationship with Helen and the inquest which seems to be an anthropology lecture allow us to see the myth through the more modern lens making it a refreshing read.
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on 5 September 2013
Atwood's choice of material from "The Odyssey" does not come as a surprise, considering her penchant for drawing focus on the disenfranchised. "The Penelopiad" throws light on the darker and less prominent aspects of the Greek myth. Atwood is concerned not with the adventures and exploits of Odysseus, but rather his long-suffering wife, Penelope, whom he leaves behind in his palace to lend arms to the Trojan War, as well as the twelve maids whom Odysseus hangs with the help of his son Telemachus, when he returns to reclaim his palace (and Penelope) from the ravenous Suitors. These last are noblemen who descends on his kingless abode to contest for Penelope's hand in marriage, and enjoy wanton access to Telemachus's inheritance that they slowly drink and feast away in his absence.

The story is told from Penelope's perspective and interspersed with the choruses of the twelve hanged maids (Penelope's closest and most trusted and the youngest and prettiest, as the narrative soon reveals) from the netherworld, as she revisits her guilt at not being able to stop this heinous act from happening. With the advantage of retrospection from Hades, Penelope corrects some glaring errors to the myth. For example, she recounts her own unfortunate childhood (victim of unsuccessful drowning by her father, King Icarius of Sparta) and informs the reader that contrary to the popular retellings that held her up as a model for modesty in her reticence as she pulled down her veil in answer to her father's plea for her not to follow her husband Odysseus back to Ithaca, it had been an attempt to hide her mirthless laughter: "You have to admit there was something humorous about a father who'd once tossed his own child into the sea capering down the road after that very child and calling, 'Stay with me!'."

The story, complete with the bitchiest exchanges between Penelope and her cousin, Helen of Troy, who is cast as a self-centred vamp here, as well as Penelope's own tenuous relationships with both her icy mother-in-law and resentful teenage son, Telemachus, sets the background for a rather domestic and intimate look within the much-loved myth. Penelope's own rather irreverent perspective of the gods and deities belies her desperate circumstances as a powerless woman in those times, as she says: "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". Clever, eloquent and biting.
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on 29 March 2016
I didn't know what to expect from this book but I'm so glad I bought it.
I love Margaret Atwood and don't think I've ever read one I didn't enjoy.
The Penelopiad is the story of Penelope and her life, before, during and after her marriage. Penelope is a compelling narrator and the chapters are short but well written and engaging.
Interspersed with references to modern life; other Greek myths and verses from the twelve maids this is an interesting and readable and enjoyble book. It has made me want to re-read the Odyssey with the things I have learnt about Penelope in my mind.
Definitly recommended
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on 16 February 2016
Myths develop as the stories pass through generations of telling - often getting more exaggerated. Atwood takes this truth and supposes that the tales told about Odysseus and written down by Homer had strayed wildly from what really happened. This book is based on the wife of Odysseus supposedly putting the record straight. But then Atwood adds the equivalent of a Greek Chorus who give their own version to claim that Penelope also gets the facts twisted. The inventiveness of the author can get too 'clever clever' - as with The Blind Assassin' - but in this slim volume it is controlled and just right.
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on 6 January 2018
The book is funny and self mocking. The relationship between Helen and Penelope is portrayed well. Margaret Atwood succeeds again.
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VINE VOICEon 15 December 2014
Original, quirky, clever, funny, interesting, riveting read. All these and more, this Margaret Atwood take on classical myth is fabulous. I so loved this little volume, I'm buying it for my friends - it makes a great present for anyone who loves poetry, myth, modern takes on myth, Margaret Atwood, or just a superb literary pastiche.
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on 14 April 2017
This was easy enough to read quickly and without too much effort. I think it was a little lighter than I was hoping for, or rather I wanted Penelope to be more substantial. Maybe I'm asking too much. I'm not sure it will stay with me for long. But it was enjoyable to visit the familiar characters and recognise the references.
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on 18 January 2017
Set text for my English degree as a counter-text to The Odyssey. Lacked the character development and depth of The Odyssey. Was a very easy read and felt very YA, chick-flicky.
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on 28 March 2013
This is a retelling of the old Trojan War story of Penelope, the most faithful wife in ancient myth. Atwood gives a voice to the woman who endured the 20 years in Odysseus' Kingdom whilst her husband was off A: fighting and B: sailing round the seas because he'd angered the gods. Yes, she did double waiting and watching because her husband got on the wrong side of a god. Welcome to ancient Greece! The maids also get a few words in, reminding us it wasn't much fun in the ancient world.

The tradition in the ancient world was to retell the old stories better, after thousands of years, we have a new addition to the pantheon of Homer, Virgil and the other ancients who is able to compete.
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