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The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus [Audiobook, Unabridged] [Audio Cassette]

Margaret Atwood , Laural Merlington
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 28 2006 The Myths Series (Book 2)
In Homer’s account in The Odyssey, Penelope - wife of Odysseus and cousin of the beautiful Helen of Troy - is portrayed as the quintessential faithful wife, her story a salutary 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 after enduring hardships, overcoming monsters and sleeping with goddesses, he kills her suitors and - curiously - twelve of her maids. In a splendid contemporary twist to the ancient story, Margaret Atwood has chosen to give the telling of it to Penelope and to her twelve hanged Maids, asking: "What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?" In Atwood’s dazzling, playful retelling, the story becomes as wise and compassionate as it is haunting, and as wildly entertaining as it is disturbing. With wit and verve, drawing on the storytelling and poetic talent for which she herself is renowned, she gives Penelope new life and reality - and sets out to provide an answer to an ancient mystery.

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Ask readers for some adjectives to describe the fiction of Margaret Atwood and most would submit "intense, cerebral, futuristic, feminist," or just plain "weird." Only the most astute would add "funny" to the list. But with The Penelopiad--Atwood's fictional autobiography of the mythic Greek character Penelope, devoted wife of Odysseus and vessel of considerable intrigue in Homer's towering Odyssey--Atwood does the improbable. She resurrects a shadowy literary figure and charms the pants off of us while offering keen analysis (however subjective) of Penelope's motivations. And she makes us chuckle. Coming on the heels of the eye-glazer that was Oryx and Crake, that's something. Atwood fans are well advised to explore this most unusual work.

In The Penelopiad, Atwood gives us a Penelope in her own words, spoken from beyond the grave. A second narrative stream comes from 12 of Penelope's maids who were slaughtered by our heroine's long-thought-dead-but-really-just-wayward husband. The maids weren't the only ones to feel Odysseus's wrath. A dogged pack of would-be suitors hoping to cash in on Penelope's wealth and status also perish in an orgy of violence triggered by Odysseus's surprise return to ancient Ithaca 20 years after he left to fight the Trojan War, a tale that might sound confusing but not in Atwood's telling. Yet what drives The Penelopiad isn't so much the yarn itself but Atwood/Penelope's dryly delivered insights into the wider human condition vis-à-vis her infamous cousin Helen of Troy, her odious mother-in-law Anticleia, and her brooding (read, quintessentially teenaged) son, Telemachus: "By 'the women,' he meant me. How could [Telemachus] refer to his own mother as 'the women'? What could I do but burst into tears? I then made the Is-this-all-the-thanks-I-get, you-have-no-idea-what-I've-been-through-for-your-sake... I-might-as-well-kill-myself speech. But I'm afraid he'd heard it before, and showed by his folded arms and rolled-up eyes that he was irritated by it, and was waiting for me to finish." Sound familiar? Many such choice nuggets are sprinkled throughout this slender book and while readers may not walk away from The Penelopiad with a richer understanding of Greek mythology (despite Atwood/Penelope's frequent attempts to correct rumors and historical inconsistencies), they will depart with a wry smile. --Kim Hughes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Drawing on a range of sources, in addition to The Odyssey, Atwood scripts the narrative of Penelope, the faithful and devoted wife of Odysseus and her 12 maids, who were killed upon the master's return. Atwood proposes striking interpretations of her characters that challenge the patriarchal nature of Greek mythology. The chapters transition between the firsthand account of Penelope and the chorus of maids as listeners are taken from Penelope's early life to her afterlife. Laural Merlington charmingly delivers the witty and perceptive Penelope with realistic inflection and emphasis. Some of her vocal caricatures seem over the top, but most voices maintain a resemblance to our perceptions of these mythic people. The maids are presented as a saddened chorus by a cloning of Merlington's voice. These dark figures speak straightforwardly in their accusations of Penelope and Odysseus, while, at other times, they make use of rhyming. This format works well, though sometimes the cadence and rhyming scheme are off beat. This benefits the production by creating an eerie resonance and haunting demeanor that enhances this engaging tale.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Laugh out Loud Funny Dec 19 2005
By Steven R. McEvoy HALL OF FAME TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
I am not normally a fan of Margaret Atwood's writings. I often find that she is too dark or has too much edge. Not that it is not good writing, and she is probably currently the most famous of the living Canadian authors, she just isn't usually my thing. I cannot say that for this book.

The Penelopiad is a hilarious romp through a story that most of us know, but told outside of time. There is an old saying that "dead men don't tell tales" and that may be true, but in this inventive retelling, a dead woman and her chorus of dead girls do just that.
Atwood has turned this myth on its head and told it from the female perspective. Unfortunately, our heroine is dead and in Hades, retelling her story from across the river Styx. She is telling her whole story but especially the events around Odysseus' long absence during the war against Troy and that unfortunate event with her cousin Helen.
The story is written in the format of a Greek Tragedy but with the humor and temperament of a comedy. Our chorus is the twelve dead maids, hung strung together on a ship's rope by Odysseus. They appear from time to time, in song, dance, or mock plays and trials to re-enact events from their lives to punctuate Penelope's story.
The twists and turns in this story will make you laugh out loud. A friend of mine who read it stated, 'It begs to be read aloud.' And I could not agree more. Pick up the book, get some friends together and read it aloud, over an evening or two together. Much fun will be had with the ghosts of our 13 dead ladies.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Laugh Out Loud Funny Sept. 9 2006
By Steven R. McEvoy HALL OF FAME TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I am not normally a fan of Margaret Atwood's writings. I often find that she is too dark or has too much edge. Not that it is not good writing, and she is probably currently the most famous of the living Canadian authors, she just isn't usually my thing. I cannot say that for this book.

The Penelopiad is a hilarious romp through a story that most of us know, but told outside of time. There is an old saying that "dead men don't tell tales" and that may be true, but in this inventive retelling, a dead woman and her chorus of dead girls do just that.

Atwood has turned this myth on its head and told it from the female perspective. Unfortunately, our heroine is dead and in Hades, retelling her story from across the river Styx. She is telling her whole story but especially the events around Odysseus' long absence during the war against Troy and that unfortunate event with her cousin Helen.

The story is written in the format of a Greek Tragedy but with the humor and temperament of a comedy. Our chorus is the twelve dead maids, hung strung together on a ship's rope by Odysseus. They appear from time to time, in song, dance, or mock plays and trials to re-enact events from their lives to punctuate Penelope's story.

The twists and turns in this story will make you laugh out loud. A friend of mine who read it stated, "It begs to be read aloud." And I could not agree more. Pick up the book, get some friends together and read it aloud, over an evening or two together. Much fun will be had with the ghosts of our 13 dead ladies.
Was this review helpful to you?
4.0 out of 5 stars Will Make you Laugh July 19 2006
By Steven R. McEvoy HALL OF FAME TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I am not normally a fan of Margaret Atwood's writings. I often find that she is too dark or has too much edge. Not that it is not good writing, and she is probably currently the most famous of the living Canadian authors, she just isn't usually my thing. I cannot say that for this book.

The Penelopiad is a hilarious romp through a story that most of us know, but told outside of time. There is an old saying that "dad men don't tell tales" and that may be true, but in this inventive retelling, a dead woman and her chorus of dead girls do just that.

Atwood has turned this myth on its head and told it from the female perspective. Unfortunately, our heroine is dead and in Hades, retelling her story from across the river Styx. She is telling her whole story but especially the events around Odysseus's long absence during the war against Troy and that unfortunate event with her cousin Helen.

The story is written in the format of a Greek Tragedy but with the humor and temperament of a comedy. Our chorus is the twelve dead maids, hung strung together on a ship's rope by Odysseus. They appear from time to time, in song, dance, or mock plays and trials to re-enact events from their lives to punctuate Penelope's story.

The twists and turns in this story will make you laugh out loud. A friend of mine who read it stated, "It begs to be read aloud." And I could not agree more. Pick up the book, get some friends together and read it aloud, over an evening or two together. Much fun will be had with the ghosts of our 13 dead ladies.
Was this review helpful to you?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A different side of Margaret Atwood. Jan. 2 2010
Format:Paperback
I must admit that I've never been much of an Atwood fan. Every once in a while I'll tackle another of her "classics" (for the feminist-leaning Canadian woman Atwood is required reading, is she not?!)but sadly each time the experiment ends with me feeling vaguley suicidal - life is soooo bleak for an Atwood heroine!

Well, Penelope's fate is bleak as well. The Penelopiad is written from beyond the grave, as it were, with a continued Greek chorus (literally) made of her hanged maids.

But it is a very funny, very clever, and quite thought-provoking story as well. Atwood is certainly a more-than-competent writer, and one gets the sense that she was feeling quite playful when she penned this little volume.

I'm having a hard time deciding on 4 stars or 5 with this one. It deserves 5 for some of the passages of Penelope in the underworld - very nicely done - but I think 4 is a more accurate rating of my overall enjoyment of the story. Repetitive in spots, and we are ceaselessly flogged with Atwood's messages about female oppression. Enough already - we GET it, Margaret!

Is this a wishy-washy review? Not really meant to be - the book is definitely worth a read. Quick and easy, and leaves one smiling rather than suicidal - always a bonus with this author, don't you think?
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very smart and witty novel.
I really enjoyed this book and honestly I wasn't expecting to for some reason. Definitely funny, interesting and thought provoking. One of Atwood's best. Read more
Published on Jan. 15 2010 by Will Shakes
3.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, unusual read
I enjoyed the book, but admittedly it is not the type of book I often read. It was engaging and written more like a play than a novel. Read more
Published on Sept. 5 2009 by Carrie
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging
Atwood is in fine form in this retelling of the Odyssey. Her writing is sharp but humourous and many of the images stayed with me for long after I had finished the book. Read more
Published on Sept. 18 2007 by sainte-carmen
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Retelling of a Classic
I think this book does not get the credit it deserves. From a time where mainly all classic stories were told from a male perspective, finally, readers are enlightened by a tale... Read more
Published on June 8 2007 by R. Morier
1.0 out of 5 stars awful
This book which is intended to be funny, is not, and in this vain one loses interest rapidly as the book loses credibility after three or four botched attempts at humor.
Published on Nov. 22 2006 by James Donelly
2.0 out of 5 stars It was Entertaining but lacked the oomph...
It was entertaining but if you look beyond the superfluous things she mentioned, there isn't much depth in the book. Read more
Published on July 17 2006 by Graph
1.0 out of 5 stars Atwood's Regression
I am a huge Atwood fan. Out of my mental 'Top 10' of great books, she occupies two or three of the top spots every time. Read more
Published on Feb. 13 2006 by Dr. G. Garrard
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