author : margaret atwood
pages : [paperback] 199
For Penelope, Odysseus’s wife, running a kingdom while her husband is away fighting in the Trojan War is no simple matter. Already distressed that he had been lured away because of the shocking behavior of her beautiful cousin Helen, Penelope must also raise her wayward son, face scandalous rumors, and keep more than one hundred lustful, greedy, and bloodthirsty suitors at bay.
Margaret Atwood gives voice to Penelope, one of antiquity’s most infamous heroines, so that she can tell her story at last and set the record straight once and for all.
The Penelopiad is a great book. It’s short, it’s powerful, and it gives a voice to a woman who has mostly been overlooked in history and, so far as I currently know, literature. When I saw who the main character of this story is, I had to read it. Feminist spins on classics always shoot right to the top of my list.
The Penelopiad follows Penelope (sort of obviously), wife of Odysseus, main character of Homer’s Odyssey. Having not read any part of it since I earned my feminist lens, I never thought before to question just what the hell Penelope did for twenty years on her own while her husband was off sailing around. What she thought of all those suitors, and if she was really as into Odysseus as the stories want us to think. I mean, dude had to have an ego already.
But this book also talks about the twelve maids murdered by Odysseus after his return (pretty much the only ladies who exist in his world apart from Athena and various other goddesses, his old nurse, and of course that snake Helen). They’re sort of a footnote in the Odyssey, kind of a senseless murder or twelve never mentioned again.
Trigger warnings for this book involve abuse and rape. No graphic descriptions, but there’s . . a lot. Casually mentioned because, you know, all of these women were forced to simply accept that was their lot in life. Which is insane. So here we see Penelope acting on what agency she’s ‘allowed’ within her space.
And it’s really, really well done. I think what was most intriguing was how much it made me really think. Although maybe that’s the dormant English major in me just excited by the prospect of doing some research on all of this.
This is a quick but important but heavy read. If you love feminism, myth, and retellings from unexpected perspectives, definitely pick this book up.