A woman's view

Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad is a re-telling of the Odyssey from the point of view of Odysseus faithful wife, Penelope. Penelope takes us through her marriage to the Greek hero, her relationship with Helen of Troy (a bit of a footballer's wife, by the sound of it), her relationship with her unruly son and in-laws, right down to the moment of Odysseus' return and his murder of her suitors and maids.

This is only a short novel, but it's a really interesting one. Penelope is the narrator through most of the novel, telling her tale as she sees it, while in the background a Greek chorus of the murdered maids (appearing as protestors in a show trial, a Busby Berkeley chorus line, and an operatic chorus) put across their point of view of the whole affair. What isn't clear is how culpable Penelope was in her maids' deaths. Her straightforward dialogue suggests that she was not to blame, but the maids themselves suggest something rather different.

By turns comical and poignant this is an interesting spin on the Greek myth. The feminist perspective adds an extra layer charting the turn from goddess worship to a more patriarchal world view. Although written with a light touch, it is clear from Atwood's writing how much this ancient world view is relevant to womens' lives, even in the twenty-first century. Penelope, Helen and the maids manage to be both ancient and topical, no small feat. An engaging re-telling.


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