A quick and mildly entertaining read, this one held none of the detail and subversion that I wished for. The idea of boringly faithful Penelope given voice was appealing as I felt certain her version would take us an entertaining distance away from the story of the Odyssey we all know. It did not. Not sure what exactly it was I wanted but I do know that there was ultimately little feminine exercise of authority against that "patriarchal penis" Atwood mentions. Just feminine manipulations. A Penelope that still must veil or turn her face to laugh at knowledge she feels discomfort in claiming. I had somehow imagined the deaths of the twelve maids as a reaction to the discovery that they had in fact been Penelope's lovers rather than any of the suitors or that the maids rose up in violent defense of Penelope and were slaughtered, but this is much tamer stuff than that.
This small book also struck me as a series of missed opportunities, of promising ideas that wilted in their execution. Like the idea that everyone arrives in the afterlife with a sack of words - both the ones they have spoken and those spoken about them - followed by Penelope's admission that storytelling is a low art to those of her class, opened up a world of possibilities including the high level at which the chorus of maids might operate in those alternating chapters. But the viewpoints of the murdered in those classic Greek inspired sections not only fell flat, they were completely ridiculous, the chants of bitter cheerleaders rather than the insights of the wronged that might have tied all together and elevated the work in general.
The Penelopiad had its entertaining moments but the humor was sometimes annoying and frequently misplaced. Reading this has made me curious about the other books in this Cannongate collection though. Maybe the Byatt next who has never disappointed me.
Many thanks to Bellezza and Col for asking us all to read along this week. I may not have liked this one as much as some did but in not meeting my expectations, the book focused my thoughts on what purpose myth re-creation might serve.