Monday, December 26, 2005

Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad

Well, I just finished reading Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad. It's a very quick read, but even after exams, I've still been spending time with family and working on grad apps.

Anyway, I'm not quite as impressed with the story as I wanted to be. I love Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, but I didn't find as much orginality in here. She takes Penelope's story and does a good job with working in a lot of mythology and details (almost to excess, though), but the overall work was a bit too preachy for my tastes. She appropriates Penelope to have her condemn herself sometimes, and it too often seems more like Atwood speaking about Penelope rather than Penelope speaking about herself. I also find it a bit of a cop-out to say that Penelope was lying about certain things, or just pretending.

As for her excessive mythological references--I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, it just seems like she's showing off that she did research. On the other hand, the ancient poets did it too. They just managed to do it with a little more poetical style, I guess. Plus, I mean, she actually did research. But I would expect nothing less of her!

I'm also really not convinced with the Penelope-as-goddess-cult-leader theory that she credits to Graves. I mean, it's plausible enough, but I'm not convinced of its obviousness the way Atwood seems to be.

Overall, though, it's a fun read. If you haven't been hit on the head with feminist theory already (it reminds me a lot of Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon, except it's a LOT shorter), it might actually provide a different perspective. The parts I thought were the most fun, though, were the mixture of the modern with the ancient and Penelope's self-awareness of the anachronism inherent in her talking about both the story of her life and the perception of the modern world from the Underworld.

By the way, I'm not trying to diss feminism. I'm a feminist myself, but I do often tire of the relentless "look at us victims!" turn it's taken lately. The Penelopiad has a lot of that, and it's not really my cup of tea. But I enjoyed the story, and I especially appreciate Atwood taking the story and trying to give it a new perspective. I also think that Atwood is also responsible for one of the better feminist novels, which was The Handmaid's Tale.


Blogger amorificus said...

I actually just finished reading the Penelopiad too. I agree, it was a bit disappointing. I almost felt as if she bought a couple of books and then sat down and did a one off--and that this book was the product. I'm a huge fan of Margaret Atwood, but the way she presented the story was just... lacking. (Though I do have to say, I quite liked her description of Odysseus and his constant "reincarnations")

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