Books that made me | The Penelopiad

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The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

What can I say about this book that I haven’t said before? Probably nothing so that’s why I’m going to start at the beginning and probably repeat some things that the 3 people who have actually watched every single one of my YouTube videos will have heard before.

This post is not a book review per say but the first in a series of posts sharing with you the ‘books that made me’; this is to say the books that have stuck with me since the day I read them, that have had an impact on the decisions I have made, the way I perceive the world and the person I am today, big or small. You can assume that I recommend each and everyone of these books before I say anything else and what I’d like to do here is just give some context to what that book has meant to me in my life.

So back to The Penelopiad.

In a sentence: this book retells the story of Homer’s Odyssey, the journey back home of the Greek warrior Oysseus after the Trojan war that spans many years, but from the perspective of his home bound wife Penelope, in the complete dark about her husband’s adventures.

My dad handed me this book when I was in my early teens and the first years of secondary school. I had always enjoyed tales of Egyptian Pharos and Greek Gods; in museums and on television anything ancient caught my eye, not to mention books. I was also a teenager now. Books weren’t just used to test my reading speed and understanding of commas at school anymore – now was time to learn the meaning of imagery and intertextuality, what books could offer beneath their surface. Presumably it felt like time to explore my interest in Antiquity through the medium of adult, literary fiction – whatever you want to call it. Of course none of this probably entered my mind at the time.

Given the topic of this post, however, you may have gathered that it was love at first read. Wowza – this book was something new. I’d read books published for adults before then but this book was more than just an engaging read, it was a new world.  It was the world of Ancient literature, albeit a reinterpretation by a modern author, it was the world of women’s voice, a world of interesting literary techniques and an expansion of my mind’s literary library. Atwood didn’t just employ an ancient storyline but included ancient literary techniques in her writing such as the interspersing of choral speeches seen previously in Greek tragedies.

This wouldn’t be the only time I read this book during secondary school. A year later, pre-standard grade exams, my English teacher asked us to write an essay on a book of our choice. I instantly settled for Atwood’s Penelopiad.

When I first read this book I experience the joy of reading, upon a second reading I was introduced to the joy of analysing the content, style and messages of a book. This is why I am certain that reading the The Penelopiad was at least one of the factors that set me on my path to become an Ancient Historian and Classicist.

Once I was a child who loved to spend their weekends with Asterix and Xena. Then I was a teenager who pondered the life of Penelope. Now I am an adult who examines the lives and literature of Ancient Greeks and hopes to contribute to the uncovering of their voices.

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