Posts Tagged ‘penelope’

Book Review: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

March 26, 2012 5 comments

Line drawing of a woman.Summary:
Hopefully anyone who’s read The Odyssey remembers Odysseus’s long-suffering wife, Penelope, who waited years for his return from the Trojan War, all while raising their son and fending off suitors who were eating her out of house and home.  Here, Atwood turns the focus from Odysseus onto Penelope, who from the underworld of Hades tells us about her own life, interspersed with choruses by the 12 maids who were hung to death upon Odysseus’s return.

I’ve taken to loading an audiobook on my ipod for those frequent times when I either have to walk from a T stop or am crammed onto a train with literally no elbow-room to hold onto my kindle.  I was excited to see this on the shelf at my library, since I had decided rather spur of the moment to pick one up, and I do love Atwood.  Plus, this is only three discs long, which is good for my audiobook attention span.

For me the story ultimately fails, although I don’t blame Atwood for that.  The thing is, Penelope, to a modern woman, is kind of pathetic.  It’s not easy to make her into a heroine we can root for, the way we can root for Odysseus.  Ok, so he’s a womanizer and a liar, but he’s also brilliant and hilarious.  The kind of guy you want to be friends with, but don’t want to date.  Yet Penelope not only is married to him, but has never stood up to him.  Even when he’s been gone for years and years fighting in a war.  Atwood is a great writer, but that’s just not a situation you can fix.  I completely get Atwood’s fascination with Penelope’s story, not to mention the 12 maids.  I don’t think any woman can read The Odyssey and not wonder about it.  But it ultimately doesn’t hold up for a story.

Penelope comes across as a woman who lived in tough times to be a woman, yes, but who never does anything really to fight the status quo.  She can’t even bring herself to stand up to the elderly maid who takes the run of her household.  Plus, she willingly puts her maids into situations where they are likely to get raped (indeed, do get raped) and then doesn’t stand up for them when her wayward husband finally comes home.  Is it within character? Sure.  Is it something that holds up as the main focus of a story?  Nope.

I did enjoy Atwood’s modern take on the Greek chorus using the dead 12 maids.  I appreciate her choice to include a chorus in the book, as well as how she played with different ancient and modern music styles.  It even left me wishing the maids were the focus of the book instead of Penelope!  Of course, interspersing music between chapters is something I’ve seen Atwood do before in The Year of the Flood, and she’s very good at it.  It’s an Atwood style that works perfectly in this book.

So what does this all ultimately mean?  Atwood’s writing style is creative and pleasant as always, but the topic of the book just isn’t.  I think the constraints of who Penelope is from such an ancient story placed a sour note on Atwood’s work that normally isn’t there.  It’s an interesting exercise, but not one I found particularly enjoyable to read.  I was more interested in it as an academic exercise.  If you’re a fan of retellings of the classics, you’ll be intrigued by it.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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Book Review: In For a Penny by Rose Lerner

Picture of a country scene on a book cover.Summary:
Nev Bedlow’s partying days are over.  His father got his brains blown out in a duel, and now Nev must deal with the family’s massive debt, as well as tend to their much too neglected country estate.  He must marry new money and pretty, witty Penelope seems just the ticket.

Penelope wasn’t after a title.  In fact, she was dutifully waiting, hoping her parents would eventually approve an engagement with her friend Edward, but when Lord Bedlow shows up asking for her hand in marriage, she finds herself saying yes.

The new couple not only must get to know each other and see if love can form, but also deal with the threat of a riot of the tenants, Nev’s impatient younger sister Louisa, and threatening neighbors.

Regency romance isn’t normally my thing, but I read a review on a book blog (I can’t remember which) that intrigued me.  It was well worth it.  In For a Penny doesn’t look at the past through rose-colored lenses.  It faces the facts of life back then for men as well as women of all stations.  However, unlike books of that time period that ignored the occurrence of things like sex, this book includes them.  Put those two together, and you get a really pleasant read.

The characters are highly relatable and are not stock characters.  Penelope is virginal and innocent due to her station, not because that’s just how women were.  An actress is provided as a nice contrast, showing that with the sexual freedom of lower classes came great risk.  Nev sports his own kind of innocence, a complete obliviousness to the pain and suffering in the world that then comes to meet him head-first.  Instead of a dashing lord, we see a young man whose father failed to properly prepare him for adulthood.  It puts exactly the type of human emotion into the story that is necessary for the romance to ring true.

That said, I didn’t completely love it.  There were a few scenes that read a bit clunky.  Beyond that, I’m not sure why I didn’t love it.  I suspect that it’s just that it’s not my favorite genre, and thus even though it is done well, it will never be an intensely loved book in my mind.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by the real emotions and situations in this regency romance and hope to come across more like it.  If you enjoy romance or historical fiction, I encourage you to give this book a chance.  I bet you will enjoy it.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Movie Review: Penelope (2006)

March 3, 2010 4 comments

Movie poster for Penelope--girl wearing a scarf around her face.Summary:
The Wilhern family was cursed by a witch that the first daughter born to the family would look like a pig.  It took hundreds of years for a daughter to be born, though, so Penelope’s appearance was quite the surprise to her family, and they reacted by ensconcing her in the house to protect her from paparazzi.  Gaining love by someone of the blue bloods is the only way to break the curse, and Penelope’s parents are determined to find it via a matchmaker.  Penelope, though, just wants to live and love like regular people.

I was expecting Penelope to be your average, predictable romantic comedy, probably because that’s how the previews presented it back when it came out.  I don’t mind a romcom every once in a while, particularly if I’m having a girl’s night with one of my friends.  However, I would not describe Penelope as a romantic comedy.  It is a fairy tale in the classic sense of the word.  It teaches a lesson, a beautiful one, and manages to completely surprise you at the moment it is unveiled.

The acting is pretty good all around.  I had only seen Christina Ricci in Prozac Nation, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to forget her as the mentally unstable Elizabeth.  However, all thoughts of that movie quickly left my head, which is a credit to Ricci’s acting ability.  Also of note is the fact that there is a little person in the movie, and the fact that he is a little person is of no relevance at all.  He’s just a reporter who happens to be little, and I really enjoyed that.

The costumes and sets are stunning.  I wanted to live in the Wilhern’s house and own their books.  I want a library whose door is camouflaged by bookshelves!  I want the dresses Penelope wears.  *sigh*

There is a little something that held me back from totally loving the movie, though.  I really liked it, but I didn’t love it, and I’m not sure why that is.  I think maybe it has something to do with the special effects used for Penelope’s nose.  It just didn’t seem all that bad to me.  Also, I think there was some miscasting in the two male love interests.  Neither of them felt quite right for their roles.

However, it is still an enjoyable movie to watch, and I particularly recommend it for teenage girls or for women who want a chick flick with a good message.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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