12 Days of Christmas 2017, Reviews

Review: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Hello to 2018! With 2017 over, I hope that everyone had a great time, and that you got to celebrate being you. Last night my parents and I finished Jessica Jones. I’m quite impressed with how much marvel we’ve watched. I think I have my dad sufficiently hooked to keep watching the shows without me now (which was my plot all along). With all this netflix-ing, I haven’t been reading a lot, so I haven’t finished the behemoth that is London, but I did finish one book. And it was none other than The Penelopiad by the incredible Canadian author Margaret Atwood. This was the first book of hers that I’ve read, although of course I’ve heard so much about her.

To start off, this book is a retelling of the myth of the Odyssey, but focusing on Penelope, Odysseus’ wife. It tells her story from her birth to just after Odysseus returns to Ithaca, and focus’ on the slaughter of the twelve maids, and all of the suitors. It also features interludes by the twelve maids, and is told through Penelope’s ghost in the field of asphodel (which is a sort of purgatory in Hades, the realm of the dead in Greek mythology).

Mythology is hands down my favourite topic, and I love retelling (see: Language of Thorns and modern fairy-tale retellings like A Court of Thorns and Roses).  But this one… felt a little bit lacking to. A lot of the time I was annoyed with Penelope’s actions. I know that she’s seen as the paragon of the dutiful wife and patience and loyalty and all that, but to not show the slightest anger at Odysseus after years of cheating, and go right back to their usual routine, that annoyed me. I guess it’s because I know that if I was in that situation I would do differently. I would have at least made him apologize for sleeping around (and despite it maybe being his only way for him to survive, it kind of sucks that he doesn’t seen remorseful at all).

Though thinking this through, his disregard for Penelope’s feelings could have been just to further highlight that perhaps Odysseus didn’t deserve Penelope’s faithfulness. He’s seen multiple times as comparing her to Helen (which is a horrible thing to do, i.e when your wife has just given birth to a son, perhaps don’t compare her to her vain and highly praised cousin). Or how it often alludes to him putting on the appearance of loving her, but not actually feeling for Penelope as she feels for him, and honestly she deserves better.

More so, it sucks that the maids get (literally) hung out to dry. They serve such a small part in the original myth if memory serves me right, but in this book we get more into their back story, and it’s quite tragic. Basically, their death was a huge misunderstanding, but it seems like Penelope never really confronts Odysseus about this, and even in their afterlife, she defends him from the ghosts of the maids. She questions them about whether or not he has suffered enough from their haunting, but I dont know – if someone killed me in cold blood I’d also be inclined to haunt them forever. It also seems like Penelope never apologizes to them, even though she inadvertently causes their deaths. I loved their interludes though.

Overall I enjoyed this book but it wasn’t my favourite retelling out there. Definitely a fun read if you want to experience Penelope’s side of the myth, and maybe learn a little more about women in mythology.

Happy 2018 ducks! See you tomorrow!

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