Friday, May 25, 2007

The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood is considered a "parallel novel;" it retells The Odyssey from the perspective of Penelope, Odysseus' wife. I've been reading a lot of parallel pieces lately (Wide Sargasso Sea, Till We Have Faces, Not Wanted On The Voyage), and I think I'm about through with metafiction for a bit. I'd like to say that's why I didn't enjoy this book all that much, but really, I think this book is more of a gimmick than a carefully-wrought work of art.

The Odyssey is an epic poem attributed to Homer. It's the sequel to The Iliad, which tells about the final year of the Trojan War and the eventual fall of Troy. The Odyssey is the recount of Odysseus' journey home after the war, and his many "detours"--it takes him 9 years to return. During Odysseus' absence from Ithaca, his home becomes overrun with suitors who are after Penelope and trying to take his place. The Penelopiad imagines what happened while Odyesseus was away and gives creative consideration to the female perspectives that are overlooked in Homer's poems.

While the novel has a bit of imagination, it's not beautifully assembled. It hardly contains enough content to be considered a novel, although that's how it's been marketed. Like a last-minute university paper, the text is well-spaced and framed with fat, white margins in order to stretch it into a 200-page book. What's most interesting about it is the voice that Atwood gives to the 12 maids who Odysseus inexplicably killed upon his return. Mostly though, it seems that this book is just a chance to apply Atwood's celebrity to a string of books known as the "Myths Series." This is the kind of book that you can read a few pages of in the bookstore, appreciate the idea, and return to the shelf without any desire to finish it.

This would, however, be an interesting read to add to a course where Homer's works were being studied. ..

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