Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Recommend: The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood is part of the Canongate Myths series, a collection of short novels in which contemporary authors take a crack at rewriting ancient myths. I have seven of the 18 titles, and I'll have to start looking for more (though it appears that not all of them are available in Canada - or in English) because they're so good! I really like the modern and refreshing spin this series gives to old tales.

You can find out more about the Canongate Myths series here and here.

In The Penelopiad, Atwood tells the women's side of Homer's Odyssey, as Penelope waits over 20 years for her husband Odysseus to return from the Trojan war (remaining faithful to him all the while). From the depths of Hades, Penelope recounts her jealousy of her peerless cousin Helen and her ruse with the shroud, trying to explain the death of a dozen of the youngest, nameless, household maids.

I found it interesting that both Atwood and Miller, in The Song of Achilles, used the voice of a shade - it's an obvious choice, I think, as the characters (or at least the real people who inspired them), are obviously dead (having lived two to three thousand years ago) and dead people can know much more than they did in life. It helps to have these shades lend some insight on the murkiest bits of the past.

We saw Nightwood Theatre perform the play, The Penelopiad, on Saturday night. With Atwood as the playwright, the story line held very true to the book. I reread it a couple days before seeing the play, and I really enjoyed being able to recognize most of the soliloquies, asides and dialog. I particularly enjoyed the chorus line of singing maids (singing the songs or poems word for word from the chorus line chapters of the book). Sunday was the closing night for this play in Toronto, but if you get a chance to see it elsewhere, I highly recommend it. All the parts were performed by women, giving power to their oppressed voices. It's definitely a thought-provoking and empowering piece!    

No comments: