Book Review: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Book Title: The Penelopiad
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd. (2005)

In my selection of books for my English course, Explorations in Literature, I thought that The Penelopiad would set off nicely against Homer’s Odyssey. The Penelopiad did not disappoint. It was a very nice modern take on The Odyssey, but from the point of view of another- Penelope. It reminds me a little of Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, which I studied for my A levels. WSS was meant as a prequel to Jane Eyre, and told the story of Antoinette Cosway, who became the ‘mad woman in the attic’ later. The Penelopiad not only allows Penelope a voice, but the maids as well. Indeed, it was the maids that left me with a deeper impression. I could still hear the ringing of their songs in my mind hours after I closed that book.

The book consists of chapters by Penelope from hell, regaling us with memories of her childhood and her marriage. These memories are interrupted by the maids’ voices: there are poems and songs and even short dramas. There is a short skit of the maids demanding justice in a modern courtroom, but was denied because the judge decided that it was normative behaviour of their time. The book was at times chilling, and at times humorous, and an extremely good read. Is it feminist at all? Perhaps a little. What this book does, after all, is to give a voice to the women who had none.

Favorites:
Part ii The Chorus Line: A Rope-Jumping Rhyme
Part xxix Envoi

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