Gary Guinn

Literature of the Ozarks

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Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad Is a Fun Ironic Romp

Book Cover

Penelope Speaks

Margaret Atwood’s short novel The Penelopiad, a retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey from the perspective of Penelope. With the help of the Twelve Maids, the story becomes a delightful romp. Atwood offers a quasi-Greek drama, with the narrative split between Penelope and the Twelve Maids, who serve as a chorus. Penelope’s voice is deeply ironic, which offers the reader a whole new perspective on the hero Odysseus and on Penelope herself as the archetypical faithful wife.

Characters and Irony

Atwood uses not only Homer’s Odyssey but also certain critical issues that surround that work, along with her own questions about Homer’s treatment of Penelope and the Twelve Maids, to mine the ancient material for a wide range of humorous possibilities. The son, Telemachus, is a spoiled brat. The faithful old servant, Eurycleia, is an interfering busybody, referred to as “the trusted cackle-hen.” The chorus of maids enters regularly, performing in a different genre each time—a rope-jumping rhyme, a lament, a popular tune, an idyll, a sea shanty, and so forth. And though Penelope maintains her iconic role as innocent and faithful wife throughout, the truth of her narrative is undercut by her own ironic tone and by various accusations made by the chorus along the way.

A View from Hades

One of the most enjoyable moves Atwood makes is to place Penelope in Hades while she tells the tale. The opening line of the book is “Now that I’m dead, I know everything.” This allows Atwood to make two additional narrative moves that add humorous layering to the tail. In Hades, Penelope meets various other characters from The Odyssey, including Helen, the cause of all Penelope’s troubles, one of the suitors slaughtered by Odysseus, and the Twelve Maids. Additionally, she narrates the story from current time, contemporary with the reader, a fact the reader only gradually becomes aware of, which allows her to make ironic comments about our times, her times, and times in between.

Vintage Atwood

For readers who are familiar with Homer’s Odyssey and who enjoy an ironic and iconoclastic voice, The Penelopiad will be a fun read. It’s quite different from Margaret Atwood’s better known and more serious work, but it’s vintage Atwood nonetheless.

Site Beginner–Building a Web Page, a great resource for writers

Site Beginner:

Hailey Stratton recently made me aware of her website, Site Beginner. She has made available a really thorough and user-friendly process  to help you set up your own website. It seems to be geared toward true beginners, giving step-by-step instructions, with good illustrations/examples. The page is titled “How to Make a Website: A Complete Guide for Beginners.” Generic Photo

If you have been thinking about setting up a personal or professional page, this might be just what you need to be able to do it yourself. You don’t have to be a computer guru to follow these instructions.

The Link:

See the page here, on my Writers Resource Page.

Good luck with your site.

Cursed, by Thomas Enger, a Review

I just finished reading a really good novel, sort of. Thomas Enger‘s novel Cursed is a good read. The characters are very human and engaging. I liked them and felt their pain and their (occasional) happiness. This was my first Enger novel, and I found his style attractive, above the average for the genre. But then, most Scandinavian crime writers are above average in their writing style. And their settings are dark and brooding, which I like in a crime novel. Their material is often referred to as Nordic NoirBook Cover, Cursed, by Thomas Enger

This novel develops three narrative arcs. First, the murder of a Swedish farmer and the disappearance of the adult daughter in a wealthy real estate family. As the novel progresses, the family’s dark secrets are gradually revealed. Second, the triangular relationships of journalist Henning Juul, his ex-partner Nora, also a journalist, and their colleague Iver. Henning and Nora have split up after losing their young son in an intentionally set fire. Nora is now in a relationship with Iver and is pregnant by him. And third, Henning’s attempt to find the person responsible for his son’s death. He is tortured by love for Nora and by the death of their son. Meanwhile, Nora is investigating the disappearance of the young woman, whom she knew in college. All three of these plot threads are handled beautifully as they are gradually intertwined and come together in the intense final chapters.

This is the fourth in Enger’s Henning Juul series, and the book seemed to function perfectly as a stand-alone novel, until I got to the final page. The ending was abrupt and dropped such a bizarre surprise, that I was confounded. I can only assume that it might make sense if I had read the earlier novels in the series. Perhaps someone who has read the earlier novels could confirm that for me. I confess that I liked the material enough that I will probably go back and try the earlier novels myself.

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