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.



André Breton’s “Nadja”


“She calls herself Nadja, she says, ‘because in Russian it’s the beginning of the word hope, and because it’s only the beginning.”

Breton André, Nadja, p.66

Nadja is a book I wanted to read since this summer after reading a critique Simone De Beauvoir wrote concerning the ways in which women are portrayed in literature. Well this was actually the second reason why I was so eager to read it as the first was that the title of the book -and the main character of the book- is Nadja which actually reminds me of my own name, so I guess while reading I was also looking for similarities between her and me. I know it sounds silly but I believe that having this in mind, my attitude towards the book was different.

“Life is other than what one writes.”

Breton André, Nadja, p.71

Essentially, this book is a “love story” between the writer and a young woman who, as the title suggests, is called Nadja. As Breton is one of the most characteristic surrealist writers, the book has surrealistic elements and is created by blending autobiographical facts with memories and imagination. For those who are not used to reading these kind of texts it can be a little hard to follow the writer’s stream of thought as it continuously progresses. I found it quite tiring myself as I have to admit that concentration was necessary in order to keep pace with the names, the streets and the events occurring . As a result it took me a lot longer to read the book than expected due to lack of time and concentration.

“André? André? … You will write a novel about me. I’m sure you will. Don’t say you won’t. Be careful; everything fades, everything vanishes. Something must remain of us…” Breton André, Nadja, p.100

 The book is divided in two parts, the first one is before the writer’s encounter with Nadja but it offers a mental tour in the streets of Paris during the 1920s. My edition of the book, which I strongly recommend, had pictures of several places the author describes, portraits of people he talks about and posters, giving a glimpse of what it would feel like living as Breton did. In my opinion, the second part of the book, where Nadja is actually introduced is a lot more interesting. Breton has a unique way of presenting her both through his eyes and her words that enchants the reader. In that case De Beauvoir was right, as Breton describes the female character as something unreachable that belongs to the fantasy word and exists in order to validate his existence.

“A kiss is so quickly forgotten.” Breton André, Nadja, p.80

Generally I liked the book because it was a different love story, it was an unconventional one and as a result it was more interesting despite the “difficulties” of reading it. I believe that people who like modernism and surrealism will find it a lot easier to read. In addition the photos provided along with their explanations made me feel like I was part of Breton’s word and I must admit that I found his way of writing very interesting and intriguing at the same time. It is as if you are constantly in someone’s thoughts and by doing so you feel closer to the writer, especially in this case where there are autobiographical elements. Of course the original language is french but I read it in English so I must admit that probably the book is better in its original writting but I could definitely not handle surrealism and french. But for those who can and want to read something rather different from the “ordinary classics” Nadja is the ideal book.

“Since you exist, as you alone know how to exist, it was perhaps not so necessary that this book should exist.” Breton André, Nadja, p.158

Arthur Schnitzler’s “Dream Story”


“And no dream, he sighed quietly, is altogether a dream”

Schnitzler Arthur, Dream Story,p.87

Arthur Schnitzler’s Dream Story is a book I recently read, given to me by one of my friends. First of all I have to admit that I hadn’t heard of the book before, but I have seen Kubrick’s adaptation of the book, the film Eyes Wide Shut. Because of this film and my love for Kubrick in general, my friend told me about the book. I didn’t like the film very much, in comparison to other films by the same director. As for the book, I found it very different in comparison to the film but I was not crazy about it either.

“For however much they might belong to one another heart and soul, they knew last night was not the first time they had  been stirred by a whiff of freedom, danger and adventure.”  Schnitzler Arthur,Dream Story p.3

The story is set in the early 20th century Vienna where we meet a couple, Fridolin and Albertine who appear to live a very satisfying life, almost dream-like until Albertine confesses to Fridolin that women, as well as men, have sexual fantasies. Fridolin even though being a doctor and having knowledge concerning psychology, is shocked because of his wife’s confession and throughout the book the reader experiences the character’s psychological transformations as well as his thoughts that appear to be as far as possible from logical thinking. His wife’s obviously true confession about women having sexual fantasies just as men, makes him feel the need to prove to her that other women are sexually attracted to him.

“He felt helpless and inept, and everything seemed to be slipping from his grasp; everything was becoming increasingly unreal, even his home, his wife, his child, his profession,his very identity, as he trudged on mechanically through the evening streets, turning things over in his mind”

Schnitzler Arthur,Dream Story, p.72

Being in a state where he can’t realise if he is dreaming or being actually awake he feels the need to hurt his wife by taking part in a weird masquerade based on sexual fantasies. At this point I must confess that, in relation to the film, the sexual tension is limited in the book as the emphasis is not put there but in the feelings and thoughts of the protagonist. When it comes to the film, Kubrick used the book only as a basis while trying to create a movie about sexual relations.

“What about when one awoke from dreams,for example?Of course, there one could remember…But there were also surly dreams which one forgot completely, of which nothing remained but some mysterious aura; some obscure bemusement” Schnitzler Arthur, Dream Story,p.73

“Curious how, seduced by words, again and again one labels and condemns people, destinies and streets through sheer idle force of habit”

Schnitzler Arthur, Dream Story,p.73

It is not one of the books I would read again but it was easy to read and quite simple really, so it didn’t bore or tire me.It did put me into thinking concerning relationships, as it depicts how easily a marriage can be ruined even by suspicion or if you chose to see it otherwise, how people keep their relationships just because they don’t want to admit that they are unhappy or unsatisfied, or even worse they choose not to see what is right in front of them just because they fear being alone.

“I think we should be grateful to fate that we’ve emerged safely from these adventures-both from the real ones and from those we dreamed about”

Schnitzler Arthur, Dream Story,p.87

 The edition of the book I read is: Schnitzler, Arthur. Dream Story. Trans. J.M. Q, Davies. Great Britain: Penguin Classics, 2016. Print. Pocket Penguin.