The Penelopiad: Book summary and reviews of The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

The Penelopiad

The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus

by Margaret Atwood

The Penelopiad

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Book Summary

Homer's Odyssey is not the only version of the story. Mythic material was originally oral, and also local -- a myth would be told one way in one place and quite differently in another. I have drawn on material other than the Odyssey, especially for the details of Penelope's parentage, her early life and marriage, and the scandalous rumors circulating about her. I’ve chosen to give the telling of the story to Penelope and to the twelve hanged maids. The maids form a chanting and singing Chorus, which focuses on two questions that must pose themselves after any close reading of the Odyssey: What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to? The story as told in the Odyssey doesn't hold water: there are too many inconsistencies. I’ve always been haunted by the hanged maids and, in The Penelopiad, so is Penelope herself." -- from Margaret Atwood's Foreword to The Penelopiad. For more about this series see A Short History of Myth, also in this issue.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"While the story isn't new, Atwood's approach reminds us that there are endlessly original ways to tell it. Grade A." - Entertainment Weekly.

"Despite the jokiness, anachronism and rumbustiousness, Margaret Atwood's Penelope is coherently and persuasively imagined; a heroine transplanted from contemporary Toronto to the Elysian Fields." - London Times.

"Unhurried, unshowy, she gives us the huge pleasures of rhythm and structure and story, and characters too - the rough Odysseus, the perhaps duplicitous wife, Penelope, and her "intolerably beautiful" cousin Helen of Troy." - The Telegraph (UK).

"Much of the story's rich material has been dumped at the back of the book in a single chapter .... This marvelous material seems not to have been metabolized by Atwood's imagination, and the result is merely a riff on a better story that comes dangerously close to being a spoof." - New York Times.

"Like opera lyrics exposed in all their naked banality in translation, myth does not fare well in this colloquial feminist retelling, especially in the choruslike commentary of Penelope's maidservants, who are executed for murky reasons on Odysseus' return, a feminist outrage of particular interest to Atwood. This is an 'Odyssey" that sets sail on a sea of theory. Without language that sings, myth isn't myth at all." - The Boston Globe.

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Author Information

Margaret Atwood Author Biography

Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa, and grew up in northern Ontario and Quebec, and in Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master's degree from Radcliffe College.

Atwood is the author of more than forty volumes of poetry, children's literature, fiction, and non-fiction, but is best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1969), The Handmaid's Tale (1985), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Her newest novel, MaddAddam (2013), is the final volume in a three-book series that began with the Man-Booker prize-nominated Oryx and Crake (2003) and continued with The Year of the Flood (2009). The Tent (mini-...

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