Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Title: The Penelopiad
Author: Margart Attwood
Publisher: Canongate

Through the passage of time the underworld of Greek myth has endured, despite the shifting of belief. For 100s of years the ghost of Penelope has lingered there, breaking through periodically to experience our world, to communicate as she sees fit. Even so, she has never revealed what really happened while her husband Odysseus was off on his legendary Odyssey, till now. The Penelopiad is Penelope's account of her life - her meeting with Odysseus, how she was always second to Helen, how Helen started the war that took Odysseus away from Penelope, and how Penelope and her maids survived through the years Odysseus was missing and every gold digger was keen to take his land. On his return Odysseus murdered the gold diggers and 12 maids, here Penelope suggests those were her agents, her loyalist friends.

Narratively Attwood's contribution to Canongate's myth series ambles along. Making odd references to contemporary existence as a throw away gesture, contrasting against the world the bulk of the story is set against. Initially the impression is that this is as much the maids' story as Penelope's story. However, for the most part the maids offer interludes and distractions, pieces that are likely clever, and demonstrate Attwood's ability, but for the most part feel fluffy and distracting. It isn't until later, when we pretty much have an idea of where things are going that the maids' interjections start to have some of the punch that they really should have done from the start.

Like the other couple of books in this series of myths, the Penelopiad is quite a short book, just about 200 pages. It is also reasonably readable, with some nice touches and some potential that is delivered with mixed results. The Penelopiad is my first encounter with Attwood's work, and for an author that seems to evoke strong reactions in both directions I found myself fairly in the middle ground with my response - The Penelopiad certainly didn't put me off Attwood and I'd consider reading something else by her.

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