Friday, April 27, 2012

Thoughts on The Penelopiad

Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad is kind of like Zachary Mason's Lost Books of the Odyssey...minus any real inspiration.

My prior experience with Atwood is The Handmaid's Tale, which is truly an inspired work of fiction.  That being said, I think when she approached The Penelopiad, she took the task too lightly and thus her art suffered for it.  At its heart, it follows handmaids of a different era, ones that served under Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, who were murdered by him when he finally returned home after twenty years.  The narrative tracks Penelope's perspective (at least according to Atwood) and treats the maids as a Greek chorus, offering their own sad commentaries, mostly in rhyme.

The problem is that Atwood's feminist version of Penelope is still not especially flattering.  Penelope spends a great deal of time crying, laments that she isn't her cousin Helen, and still treats her position as one of infinite privilege, even though she doesn't have much to do.  She can't grasp the concept of nuance even though she's constantly claiming everything we know about her is basically lies and exaggeration.

It doesn't really add up.  If it'd worked, if it had been to the standards I experienced in Handmaid's Tale, it would have been brilliant.  But it isn't.  It treats everything with as little actual weight and all hollow posturing as possible.

That being said, it is again a work that I would not actively discourage others from reading, whether they're as interested in Homeric tales as I am or not, because it's a writing style I basically encourage and it's still a fairly ambitious effort, and that's always to be encouraged.

(Basically, if you like Percy Jackson, you'll probably like this.)

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