Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, a retelling of the Trojan War. In my 'Read Alongside' section I recommended Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad and doing so made me itch to read it again. I first picked it up in 2005 when it first came out (I was 19 at the time) and I loved it so much that I recommended it to everyone and even bought my sister a copy for her birthday. I wanted to see if the book had stood the test of time.
Told from the perspective of Penelope and twelve of her maids, The Penelopiad recounts what happened to everyone left behind whilst Odysseus was on his many voyages after the Trojan War. Was Penelope as loyal and devoted as she made out to be? The Penelopiad is part of the Canongate Myth series.
The good news is that The Penelopiad definitely passed the test of time for me. It's a short book but from the first sentence ("Now that I'm dead I know everything"), I was engrossed and I breezed through the whole book in under a day, just what I needed after reading stuffy non-fiction all week. At the simplest level, The Penelopiad is a well told, engrossing story with an interesting cast of characters.
On the second read I understood the character of Penelope and the subtle hints in the book a lot more. On goodreads there are quite a few negative reviews of this book, people complaining about the 'militant feminism' or Penelope's 'whining' and it was only on a second reading that I understood what these reviewers had missed - Penelope is such an unreliable narrator but it's up to the reader to work it out for themselves. We don't get what really happened from Penelope, we just get her spin on the story, what she would like to have happened. There are no conclusive answers, not even from the maids.
I also found myself appreciating the way Atwood wrote Odysseus more on the reread. There's just the right mix of honesty, lies, tricks and honest deception. I liked his portrayal in Song of Achilles too, he must be one of those characters authors love to write.
The Penelopiad definitely isn't for everyone - if you don't like Atwood's other work, you won't like this, but it is a fun retelling of The Odyssey that has more to it than meets the eye. Recommended.
First Published: 2005
Score: 4.5 out of 5