Margaret Atwood’s “The Penelopiad”


Upon hearing that Atwood has written a book about Penelope narrating in a sense The Odyssey from a female perspective I was very intrigued to read this novel. The Penelopiad though is not exactly that. Yes, Penelope is the protagonist, as well as the narrator of the novel but the novel is definitely not an epic.


Atwood gives voice to a female character that has not actually been heard in the past, it is exactly this element of the novel that I found interesting. Everyone knows about Odysseus,  he was clever and a trickster and a big hero and he also managed to choose a good wife, that remained faithful to him during the ten years the Trojan war lasted and the other ten years that took him to come back. But what do we know about Penelope? Well, that she was faithful, patient and she tricked the suitors by weaving a web throughout the day and destroying it during the night.

“Forgetfulness don’t always work the way they’re supposed to. Lots of people remember everything.”  Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad p.187


What I am trying to say is that Atwood could present a strong female character, an independent woman but instead she voices Penelope only to repeat the things we already knew about her and to express her hate and jealousy towards Helen. Even at the times Penelopy is proved to be clever, it seems as if she is looking for a verification from the reader and it was kind of disappointing in my opinion. This is actually what I find frustrating about female characters that appeared in mythology or in ancient greek and roman literature. Every time someone is trying to give them a voice, they end up with a whisper and are still overshadowed by the man who kept them silent in the first place.

“I wanted happy endings in those days, and happy endings are best achieved by keeping the right doors locked and going to sleep during the rampages.”  Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad p. 3


What I liked about the novel was that Atwood paid attention to the murder of the twelve maids by Odysseus, which is an incident that has not been touched upon a lot. To tell you the truth I had completely forgotten about them. What Atwood does not achieve by voicing Penelope she achieves by voicing these twelve girls, leading the reader to get to know them. She recreates their pasts, their feelings and thoughts and she does so through poems or little plays that she includes among the chapters. In my opinion the parts concerning the maids are the ones that are best written and that do offer a complete new insight to Odysseus and Penelope’s characters.


“You don’t have to think of us as real girls, real flesh and blood, real pain, real injustice. That might be too upsetting. Just discard the sordid part. Consider us pure symbol. We’re no more real than money.”  Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad, p.168

Generally it was not a bad novel, I think it was my expectations that got in the way. It is very easy to read (I read it in one day) and I do believe that some parts make you think. Atwood’s novel clearly mocks the epic and combines its elements along with those of the novel and the chorus of tragedy. The story of the twelve maids is the most interesting part in my opinion and the novel is worth reading for that part.


The edition I read is: Atwood, Margaret. The Penelopiad. Cannongate, 2005.

You can buy a copy with free shipping here.


Michael Cunningham’s “Flesh and Blood”

Flesh and Blood


“There was a new world with no rules and there was the old world with too many. She didn’t know how to live in either place.” 

Michael Cunningham, Flesh and Blood, p. 142


Flesh and Blood is one of the books that I came across randomly and managed to make me love every page, every word of it. I actually started reading it upon researching for a thesis for my Master paper concerning Greek Myth in Modern American Literature. Despite not finding what I was actually hoping for in terms of writing, this novel became one of my favorites. To tell you the truth I could not even wait for the novel to be delivered to me, so I read it in a PDF form, that is why this post does not contain my own images.


“I never really wanted to teach Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, I wanted to be Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary.”

Michael Cunningham, Flesh and Blood, p.250


The novel unwraps the stories of an American family in three generations. Starting from the immigrant parents, the father being a Greek immigrant and the mother of Italian origin, to their three children and finally to their grandchildren. As you can guess, there are a lot of characters and different points of view, which was one of the aspects of the novel that I really liked. The plurality of voices gives the reader perspective and the psyche of each character is treated respectively. In addition to that, one is actually able to see how even in a family, the smallest community there is, people react differently, have unique emotional responses and interpret others’ actions in their own way.


“I’m afraid one day we’ll just be, you know. Relatives”

Michael Cunningham, Flesh and Blood, p.151


Coming back to the characters, the Stassos’ family tree has at its roots, Constantine, the father who is a constructor, kind of hot-tempered and whose purpose is to become rich in order for his family to prosper, and Mary, a housewife, a nurturing mother with well-hidden guilty pleasures. The branches of the tree are their three children, Susan, the beauty queen who always struggles for stability and safety in her life, Will, the only son who is also a homosexual, trying to find himself and escape the shadow of his father and Zoe, the youngest and most distant of them all, a nature lover and an adventure seeker. Last but not least, the leafs of the Stassos’ family tree are Susan’s son Ben, who always tries to live up to the expectations of his parents, and Jamal, Zoe’s son, who is free-spirited but very reserved at the same time.


“It’s a big dose, isn’t it?”

Michael Cunningham, Flesh and Blood, p. 219


Generally I believe that the characteristics I gave for each person of the Stassos family are more than enough and I would not like to reveal more, because I truly believe it is best for the reader to discover things him/herself. In addition to these wonderful and complicated characters Cunningham has created, there is one more that I personally adored (and was inspired to write about actually) is tha of Cassandra, a transvestite that becomes close friends with Zoe and actually has the “gift” of somehow foreseeing and advising the family members about certain aspects of their future.


“Wild is one thing”,she said. “Medusa is something else.”

Michael Cunningham, Flesh and Blood, p.169

The title put me into thinking actually, but I believe that it is a brilliant one. The flesh is the body, everyone has his own and chooses (most of the times what to do with it). It is also something that is on the surface, it does not go deep. That’s why in my opinion Cassandra is the most interesting character, because he did not feel comfortable in his own skin, that’s why she became the “seer” guiding Zoe. Her transformation involves the changing of her own skin, her own flesh. When it comes to blood, the connection of the family ties is pretty obvious. Blood always connects even if flesh separates, and probably family, even if it is in this case a highly dysfunctional one, can always be proven to be the safe place in the midst of a wild storm.


“There was work and love, a kind of love. You ignore the little glitches.”

Michael Cunningham, Flesh and Blood, p. 321


So, all in all, should you read this book? YES, especially now that Christmas is on its way and it is the season of book cuddling. I can’t wait to hear your comments on this, and I do hope you enjoy it as much as I did.



Little Dose of Poetry:May Theilgaard Watts’ “Vision”

Barber,Laura,ed.Penguin’s Poems For Love,p.20. London:Penguin,2010.Print.Penguin Classics.

While I was having breakfast today (actually it was just coffee and bread with jam) I thought about having read a poem which made me feel exactly as I did at that moment. It might seem weird but I think poetry lives inside us in the small everyday experiences.As a result I begun thinking which poem was that,that while reading it made me imagine eating strawberry marmalade and feeling happy,just enjoying a sunny morning within the glorious mess my kitchen is in.It was not hard to find that the poem I was thinking about is May Theilgaard Watts’ Vision and after reading it again I was able to see once more everything that the poem refers to,happening all around me and feel as if..

“My love kissed my eyes last night.”

May Theilgaard Watts

Enjoy your day 🙂

To-day there have been lovely things I never saw before; Sunlight through a jar of marmalade…