Sunday, February 15, 2015

Margaret Atwood turns The Odyssey on it's head

Margaret Atwood is a great writer. She's given us scholarly studies, fine analyses, and excellent novels like The Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake, and many others. With The Penelopiad she turns her feminist's eye towards Homer and tells the story of what really went on while Odysseus was making his 10-year journey home from the fall of Troy.

Atwood's take on Penelope's story is both educational and amusing. She brings out a number of points which Homer did not, and cites her sources for each. For example, did you know that Penelope was the cousin of Helen of Troy? That she was the daughter of a naiad? These factiods are used to build up Penelope from the one-dimensional faithful wife of Homer's story to a woman who struggles to hold together Odysseus' household until either their son Telemarchus comes of age or Odysseus' return.

Atwood manages to make Penelope a real person, a woman of her time, and a feminist commentary on the role she had to play. Yes, Atwood has an axe to grind here - but she grinds it with restraint, not letting the commentary overshadow what is both an entertaining story and an excellent character study. Witty, entertaining, informative, and educational - what else could you ask for? Recommended.

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