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In Homer’s account, Penelope’s story is the salutary tale of the constant wife. It is she who rules Odysseus’s kingdom of Ithaca during his twenty-year absence at the Trojan War; she who raises their wayward son and fends off over a hundred insistent suitors.
When Odysseus finally returns—having vanquished monsters, slept with goddesses and endured many other well-documented hardships—he kills the suitors and also, curiously twelve of Penelope’s maids.
In a splendid contemporary twist, Margaret Atwood tells the story through Penelope and her twelve hanged maids, asking: ‘What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?’ It’s a dazzling, playful retelling, as wise and compassionate as it is haunting; as wildly entertaining as it is disturbing.
‘An act of both larceny and reclamation, The Penelopiad shows Atwood making off with an especilly well-guarded cultural treasure—and making it new, as she always does.’
‘Showcases Atwood’s established talents for psychology, poetry and wicked crone humour. Sly, wise and nasty.
‘Atwood’s rendering is skilful, entertaining and playful but it is not so much a modernisation of the myth as a reminder of how myths are written and rewritten in endlessly different registers and voices by every age, sometimes to inspire, sometimes to conceal, but always to test the imagination to its limits and beyond.’