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Book Confluence: The Penelopiad

 For our first book club selection, we’ll be discussing  Margaret Atwood’s novella,  The Penelopiad: The Myth of Odysseus and Penelope

The Penelopiad retells the story of Homer’s epic poem, Odyssey, from the point of view of Odysseus’s wife Penelope.  Atwood’s Penelope seeks to set the record straight.  While Homer characterizes Penelope as a loyal, faithful wife, Atwood’s Penelope views her husband as a con, remarking “I knew he was tricky and a liar, I just didn’t think he would play his tricks and try out his lies on me.” 

The novella alternates between Penelope’s narrative and that of the twelve hanged maids, whom are central to the story.  According to Atwood: 

I’ve chosen to give the telling of the story to Penelope and to the twelve hanged maids. The maids form a chanting and singing Chorus, which focuses on two questions that must pose themselves after any close reading of the Odyssey: What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to? The story as told in the Odyssey doesn’t hold water: there are too many inconsistencies. I’ve always been haunted by the hanged maids and, in The Penelopiad, so is Penelope herself.

As we read, it may be fun to ask ourselves if there are characters in the book who remind us of any modern political figures?  Do we see elements of the Greek patriarchy depicted in the book present in America today?  How are gender and class roles portrayed in the story? 

I have not read the book, which was one of the reasons I selected it.  However, many Confluecians mentioned Atwood.  It is not necessary to have read the Homer’s original epic.

The book, aside from notes and acknowledgements, is slightly less than 200 pages in paperback.  Shall we meet back here a week from today having read through Chapter xiii The Wily Sea Captain, A Sea Shanty, or about the halfway point? 

*I will not be selecting the books going forward.  I want everyone to get a chance to pick a book for the group.  How will we select our next title?  I propose the first person to comment in this thread pick a title and tell us what they’ve selected at next week’s meeting.

56 Responses

  1. A warning shot to Michelle!

  2. We had it on the shelf! So I’ve got my copy in hand. It sounds like a good choice to me.

    (And thank heaven, I’m not the first comment!)

  3. LOL, Carol. Funny.

    Oh good, katie. It sounds like a good read to me. Glad you think so too.

  4. Great new video of Murphy on Fox & Friends this morning. She is an excellent spokesperson. They can’t trick her up.

    God save the Presidency!

  5. Carol, you realize you are up to pick our next selection. Let us know at next week’s thread. 🙂

  6. Hmmm? Sounds like a chick book to me. I’ll pick it up on the way home tonight.

    Ouch!! Stop kicking me.

  7. Hey NH, it’s not exactly “Confessions of a Shopaholic”, m’kay? 🙂

    I’m psyched you’ll be joing us.

  8. Yikes, “joining” not “joing”.

  9. Great idea, I’ll see if I can grab a copy.

  10. Nader Says Obama Trying to Appeal to White Guilt

    Asked if he thinks Obama is trying to “talk white,” Nader said, “of course….The number one thing that a black American politician aspiring to the presidency should be is to candidly describe the plight of the poor, especially in the inner cities and the rural areas, and have a very detailed platform about how the poor is going to be defended by the law, is going to be protected by the law, and is going to be liberated by the law,” Nader said. “Haven’t heard a thing.”

    Nader also says Obama wants to show he’s not “another politically threatening African-American politician. He wants to appeal to white guilt.

  11. Oh, goody! I love love love Atwood.


  12. NH – I am suspicious as to whether or not masslib is psyched you will be “joing us” rather than “joining us”.

    Next book – I will research carefully. I know that Obama has ‘Dick and Jane’ already checked out, so it will have to be something else.

    1st I watch & depend on FOX NEWS!!
    By the way the Dems send me an invite to join in “Unity” & I declined!!

  14. Carol, you are on fire today. Very funny.

    tpt/ny, I got the same bogus invitation. Ugh.

  15. Unity Schmunity. No parking at the site so we protesters can’t show our faces to the world. Maybe a protest on the road leading into town.

  16. I’ll join “Unity” but only if a possum is the official mascot and we get to learn a secret handshake.

    Also, the snacks have to be good.


  17. Interrupting you briefly to tell you that Murphy was on Faux and Friends this morning, (a different appearance from the one posted last night), where she supported MY interests very well.

    NoQuarter has the video.

    She is an incredible spokesperson.

  18. I am now getting information from 2 other groups soliciting for Obama even though I unsubscribed to the DNC and the Obama email (Obama got my email address and addressed me as Carol when my email address had no mention of my name in the address. Conspiracy!)

  19. I just looked up the definition of

    “PUMA” – Attacks on humans remain rare, despite a recent increase in frequency.

    I think the Obama supporters had better be afraid, very very afraid!

  20. I would like to add a book tip: “Cassandra” by Christa Wolf.

    The fall of troy is retold from the perspective of the seer Cassandra as she is facing the last hour of her life. “Cassandra speaks to us in a pressing monologue whose inner focal points are patriarchy and war” (taken from amazon).

    I enjoyed the book and have read it many times.

  21. Count me in. Just reserved my copy from the local library. I can pick it up tomorrow.

  22. Can we make it two weeks? I have some others on my reading list and I don’t like stopping in the middle of a book.

    Its ok if you guys don’t want to change the schedule. I’ll just catch up in the next post when the other half is read.

  23. Is there any gratuitous sex or violence?

  24. That looks like a Jean Cocteau on the cover

  25. I love this book thing. I was mesmerized by the comparision of Hillary to “Cordelia”. I think it is spot on.

  26. I think Hillary reminds me more of the Other Boleyn Girl. She came to the party and played but then got sent home while the king took the scheming sister. We all know what happened to Anne.

  27. masslib, great choice. I just ordered my copy. For those who are wondering, there are scores of copies of this book that cost under $5.00 from ABE Books. You can find them at http://www.abebooks.com They are a website of indepenent and used book sellers that have banded together to sell used books on the internet. The books you get from them are in good shape and cheap, cheap, cheap. Sometimes the shipping actually costs a little more than the book.

    It’s much more politiclly correct to support used book stores than putting more money in the pockets of Jeff Bezos at Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Borders.

    One other thing about the Oddessy, maslib, the premier American translator of the Oddessy (and the Iliad and Virgil’s Aneid) Robert Fagles died last month. He brought Greek and Roman literature to life in a way that nobody has in many years. He was a professor at Princeton. His loss was very sad.

    Anyway, thanks for doing this. I look forward to many hours of reading pleasure! I certainly need the distraction, this election is pissing me off more and more!

  28. Required reading: Obama and the Dean Dozen


    It includes The Plan: #1 Influentials #2 Web influentials #3 Small donor campaign contributions #4 Candidate (no national name recognition) #5 Funding #6 Change the media landscape, create a movement.

  29. We could read MO’s princeton thesis.

  30. They sure are hitting members of the “old coalition hard. Elizabeth Edwards sent us a letter yesterday and today Howard Dean sent an email on 50 state unity.

    Off to get the book.

  31. Mawm: You don’t want too, it is really bad.

  32. Of course he’s appealing to white guilt — the very thing that the AA community used to laugh at and assure the world they didn’t want or need.

    Now, all those white-guilt white liberals who talk up their black friends are exactly what Obama’s campaign loves most. who cares if the depth of their understanding of race issues is as thing as piss on a rock?

    I know racism, and I’ve called it when I saw it, but I’m seriously never going to take that word seriously again.

  33. How much time are we being given to read the book?

  34. Pat, FYI, in hard cover the book is pretty short, about 160 pages.

  35. Pat, I thought we could read the first half for next Thursday. How does that sound?

  36. It’s available from Amazon, around $10, and available for immediate delivery. I ordered today, and it’s due here Friday. Sounds like an interesting read.

  37. masslib: Can do.

    samanthasmom: Thanks, I will order immediately.

    I am psyched!


    masslib, I found our next book.

    Straight out of the Oprah Book Club, let’s go for… Drumroll please…

    A Million Little Pieces

  39. MABlue: I have that along with his new one which I have not started.

  40. MABlue, I said we were not going to read Audacity of Hope. 😉

  41. Pat:

    It’s more about the symbol. We have a candidate serving us a million little lies and also give to us by Oprah.

  42. MABlue; I get carried away. But I did read the book and kind of liked it. Your acute reference went right over my head.

  43. Legit question for the book club:

    How long before we regroup and talk about it?

    Two weeks?

  44. SM, I thought we would read about half of it for next Thursday, and then follow up with the rest the next week. It’s a novella so I think that is doable. Someone suggested breaking it into two on our last thread. We’ll see what we think next week.

  45. Ok Masslib, that’s doable!

    Next Thursday it is then!

  46. MABlue,
    How about 18 million pieces?

    Yes! Not only what happened to Anne, but also who had the heir to the throne?! (C’mon, Chelsea!)

    I enjoy Atwood books. I heard her speak at an author’s forum a few years ago and was surprised how funny she is! Not what I was expecting at all. And, of course, she’s sharp as a tack.

    I’ll place an order at the local library tomorrow.

    Thanks, Masslib, for getting us started!

  47. MABlue,

    I put a hold on the book at my local Borders online and picked it up this afternoon. I love Margaret Atwood and am really looking forward to this. Anything I should be looking for?

  48. – scuse me, I meant Masslib. My bad.

  49. hey masslib did this just come out? I couldn’t find it! I want to be part of this because of my love of her work esp. Handmaid’s Tale. I just got one called moral disorder, but will try and hunt this down as well — she has chronicled a woman’s life in her work.

    another you all might love is Kate Braverman. I interviewed her once for Slowtrains,com and it’s also up on her webpage at Kate Braverman.com. To me these are books that should be taught in Women’s studies classes?

    anyway this will be fun!


  50. vbonnaire, it’s not new. I got it at Borders last night and it was in the myth section instead of fiction. You can order it online. I would call your local bookstore or your library and ask them to set a copy aside for you.

  51. I picked mine up at BN on the way home tonight and I already read about 20 pages.

    It is Hilarious!

    Of course the bamazoid wife asked why I got this book and all I could say was, “it’s for my feminist studies course”.

    So, do we think that Helen could melt men by just showing one breast?


  52. Also in the Myth section of BN

  53. masslib I think you need to do two things. Ask RD to make a category for book club or whatever since this post is going to leave the FP any day. 2, she could maybe make a page that is home to the book club and give y’all management rights.


  54. Hamster, it’s so funny isn’t it. Your wife must be very confused. I will ask RD to do that.

  55. Continuing in the thread that is not read.

    I wish I had proposed a book all women should read. It is by a man. Ken Follett’s “World Without End”. The sequel to Pillars of the Earth.

    I started reading it the day it was released and could not put it down even though it is long, long. Actually I had to put it down but it is so good. A woman, a strong woman fighting for the little people and her own rights in the church of Medieval England.

    A must read.

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