The Penelopiad is another installment of the Canongate Myths Series.
In this installment, Margaret Atwood turns her hand to the story of Odysseus and tells the story of The Odyssey and The Iliad from the perspective of Penelope, Odysseus’ wife.
If you have ever wondered what it would be like to read an Atwood version of Homer’s anthem to heroism, it was fun. I read this whilst waiting at the garage. Apparently, my chuckling along persuaded the elderly gentleman next to me to co-read while waiting for our cars to be ready.
My favourite chapter had the title “Helen Ruins My Life”, which was of course about Helen of Troy being a total tramp and running off with Paris, which in turn caused Odysseus to leave Penelope and join the war against Troy.
“I’ve often wondered whether, if Helen hadn’t been so puffed up with vanity, we might all have been spared the sufferings and sorrows she brought down on our heads by her selfishness and her deranged lust. Why couldn’t she have led a normal life? But no – normal lives were boring, and Helen was ambitious. She wanted to make a name for herself. She longed to stand out from the herd.”
Anyway it was an entertaining read and – as usual for Atwood – emphasised a few new perspectives on an old classic.
“It’s surprising how many women there are in the Odyssey and they all help Odysseus, which is why I made him so charming. He’s the kind of guy women like – he has a lovely voice, he takes an interest in them, he understands human nature. That’s why he’s so persuasive: he doesn’t get his way by force, he’s not a thug. He was fun to be around. That’s why Penelope is sad he’s not there. He’s helped by women at every turn: by Helen in The Iliad, and by all the goddesses he meets along the way in the Odyssey. And then there’s Penelope holding the fort while he’s away. That’s the kind of guy he was.”
(Margaret Atwood interviewed in The Guardian, 26. Oct. 2005)