The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Now this is how you retell a classic story. This is the Margaret Atwood I love: spiriting through fields of asphodel in Hades instead of stumbling through the mosquito-infested backwoods of Canada. Atwood has a hell of an imagination, and in The Penelopiad a divine story has birthed itself out of her forehead.

In true Atwood fashion, The Penelopiad is not without fairly annoying interludes of poems, songs, ballads and other jarring forays from the prose … but what sublime, hilarious prose it is, and it makes the voyage worth it.



In Homer’s account of The Odyssey, Penelope – wife of Odysseus and cousin of the beautiful Helen of Troy – is portrayed as the quintessential faithful wife, her story a lesson through the ages. Left alone for twenty years when Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan war after the abduction of Helen, Penelope manages, in the face of scandalous rumours, to maintain the kingdom of Ithaca, bring up her wayward son, and keep over a hundred suitors at bay, simultaneously. When Odysseus finally comes home, he kills her suitors – and twelve of her maids.

In a contemporary twist to the ancient story, Atwood has given the retelling of the myth to Penelope to find out what she and her twelve maids were really up to.