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February 17, 2009 |

By Dustin Rowles | Books | February 17, 2009 |

The book’s short, so this review will be short, too. In fact, at 199 pages, including Acknowledgements and Notes, it just barely misses the mark here for the cannonball rules, but I read the introduction, too, so I’m counting it.

What Atwood has here is a re-imagining of The Odyssey and, being the feminist writer she is, she’s told it first person from Penelope’s perspective (Odysseus’s wife), as well as working some explanation about the hanging of twelve maids that I assume happened in The Odyssey. It’s been about seven years since I read it, so I’m fuzzy on my epic poem specifics — apologies all around.

There’s a lot to appreciate here, but not too terribly much to like. It’s a quick quick read: I finished it in a day using only down time at work. Taking that into consideration, this is a lot like another svelte book I love — On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan — in that Atwood crams a lot of really interesting ideas into a small space, so it’s to be commended on that front. Where it’s dissimilar from McEwan’s novella is that it’s not that poignant, nor does it have a sense of necessity. It reads a little bit like a creative writing exercise where Atwood was asked in some fictional grad class to reinterpret a classic piece of literature and she ran with it and sketched some things out… and then got it published.

Ultimately, I’m far from disappointed with it, as there are a lot of interesting devices at play, such as a chapter with an imagined modern-day courtroom scene where Odysseus is put on trial for the murders of the twelve maids or the intercalary sections that recontextualize the Greek chorus as the twelve maids, but the biggest plus of this book was that it was short. Not very high praise. I’m a huge fan of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and while The Robber Bride was distractingly male-bashing, it was still highly entertaining and well-written. This was an interesting experiment, but offers little beyond that, so I’m looking forward to reading another of Atwood’s novels over her shorter work.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details are here and the growing number of participants and their blogs are here. And check here for more of whatBenwatches’ reviews.

Cannonball Read / whatBenwatches

Books | February 17, 2009 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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