Margaret Atwood first thoroughly captivated my attention with her short story “Happy Endings,” a brilliant almost hybrid-like structure. While The Penelopiad does not share the same structure, this novella maintains a unique hybrid style. Unfortunately, I have not read enough of Atwood to call her one of my favorites, but that is fault of mine I hope to resolve promptly.
The Penelopiad seems to be Atwood’s timely response to Homer’s Odyssey, exploiting a side of the epic that has never really garnered much focus. This story follows Odysseus’s better half throughout her life as she struggles with self-consciousness, guilt, and the absence of her husband. Penelope is the queen of Ithaca and cousin of Helen of Troy, but is notoriously known as the faithful wife of the great Odysseus.
This story is told from the perspective of Penelope in the Underworld, thousands of years after the Trojan War. For those a little bit more cultured out there, you already know that means this story is being told in present day. Although, this specific setting does not have a huge impact on the entirety of the story. All of it is being retold and the imagination instantly goes back in time to Greek soldiers and wool togas.
In many ways, I am glad the modern day setting does not affect the story in any significant way. The Romantic aspect of ancient times and unfamiliar ways keeps the text interesting and worth reading. That being said, there are two main reasons to pick up this novella at your local bookstore. First, the story unearths a neglected character, as mentioned before, but what makes it special is how she is spun through the mind of Atwood, giving her a sense of credibility and truth. This comes in handy throughout the story, as there are multiple viewpoints given, but only one to believe. The other reason is to simply experience the creative style of Atwood’s writing. The reader will get a chapter of prose, then a chapter of poetry or maybe even lyrics to a song. Atwood keeps the pace going with different brands of techniques, creating at times what seems to be an interactive adventure. Something you do not get from most pieces of fiction around, which is rather unfortunate really.
The Penelopiad is one of those lucky finds as you are perusing through that rather large book sale. If you happen to come across this, pick it up. It’s a quick read and something a bit different. Maybe you will become an Atwood enthusiast afterwards or perhaps want to revisit Homer’s works. Either way is a good enough reason.
The Penelopiad (2005) written by Margaret Atwood