THE PENELOPIAD, Margaret Atwood
(finished reading on 15/06/2012)
A friend bought me The Penelopiad, from The Myths series by Canongate, for my birthday years and years ago. For some reason I didn’t read it, and it has been sitting on my shelf all this time … maybe it was the slightly disturbing (but excellent) drawings of the twelve hanged maids from the story that put me off.
Anyway, as I’m currently working my way through The Gift, which is dense and non-fiction (but also excellent) and therefore going to take me a while (I struggle with non-fiction, I think it’s all the education I’ve subjected myself to), I’ve been punctuating it with short pieces of fiction, and suddenly remembered this neglectee on the book shelf (most likely because there is a quote on the cover of The Gift by Margaret Atwood, recommending it).
In Homer’s The Odyssey, Penelope is the epitome of the faithful wife, waiting for twenty years for Odysseus to return home after the Trojan war. In Homer’s account, she is narratively mute, but Atwood chose to restructure the story and give the telling to Penelope and her twelve hanged maids.
I read it in one afternoon and recalled whilst doing so, Atwood’s own Gift in being able to make the ordinary, extraordinary – as well as strange and frightening – so that when immersed in one of her novels (for me at least), any number of everyday things begin to take on a sinister edge: one’s own relationships, food shopping or going to work. With The Penelopiad, Atwood does the same in reverse: in dealing with the myth of Odysseus and the fantastic world he, Penelope and the maids inhabit, she makes it seem all very plausible and human. The mass murder, the utter ruthlessness, the lack of love, come to feel all very normal.
She so gets us, doesn’t she?