Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Penelopiad (and the end of the Once Upon a Time Challenge)

Margaret Atwood
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Canongate U.S. (October 5, 2005)

The Penelopiad is a retelling of the Iliad and the Odyssey from Penelope's point of view. It is told in first person by Penelope, thousands of years after the event as she drifts through Hades, and by the twelve maids who serve as a sort of Greek chorus, telling their version in a variety of ways from poetry to rhyme to courtroom drama.  Atwood turns the traditional story of Odysseus around on it's ear, when she makes Penelope the center of the tale.  New angles and possibilities arise, both from Penelope's telling and from the accusations of the maids.  Odysseus's twenty year absence becomes, not a rousing adventure tale, but a burdensome trial for a wife to bear and Atwood skillfully takes the reader through a spectrum of emotions as Penelope and the maids deal with this ordeal.

A knowledge of Greek mythology and Homer's original tale is a must to appreciate the changes, both subtle and dramatic, that Atwood has made.  Without that background, I doubt the reader would find any enjoyment in this novel.

Atwood's talent is clear in The Penelopiad as she deftly uses a variety of narrative styles.  The result is a retelling that is at times shocking in it's difference, and believable enough to become entangled with the original, leaving the reader questioning.

This was read for the "mythology" category of the Once Upon a Time Challenge, finishing the requirements for "Quest the Second".  I read two super good books for this challenge, this one and American Vampire.  I wouldn't have read this one, but for this challenge, and I'm grateful for the challenge for making me look at American Vampire in a different light.  Many thanks to Carl V for hosting this excellent challenge!