Did you ever wonder what Penelope was up to while Odysseus was out gallivanting across the Mediterranean? In this tell-all, she gives her side of the story, which differs in surprising ways from Homer’s version of events. Set in modern-day Hades, she recounts her unusual tale, beginning with her birth, and continuing all the way to the end: present day, thousands of years after her death. Her unique perspective and that of her Maids makes The Penelopiad a fresh new take on the classic epic.
In the time in which Penelope was alive, a woman’s role was mostly as a child bearer, and her station as a daughter of a king made her a prize to be won rather than a person. She describes her marriage to Odysseus as being handed over like a package of meat and is aware of her objectification. However, she doesn’t break out of that role until it is necessary after Odysseus leaves. When his parents die, the running of the estate falls to her, and eventually the Suitors come to take over. Through her strength and wit, she is able to keep the kingdom running without letting any of the Suitors usurp the throne. In that way, she embodies a strong matriarchal character, though the constraints of the original story keep her from breaking out into the hero archetype like we would hope.
Atwood uses an informal story-telling style for Penelope’s point of view, which is the majority of the book. However, the Maids do get their own chapters, which are usually songs or poems. These really showcase the playful and versatile styles that Atwood can achieve. As a side note: they are really fun and at the same time dark, perfect for dark humor enthusiasts.
Penelope as the storyteller is the central character, with most of the novel from her viewpoint. While the plot ostensibly revolves around Odysseus being away, he is actually one of the more prominent characters. The Maids get a significant amount of page time to themselves as well, and are largely grouped together as one entity. Other characters that get some speaking roles include Eurycleia (an older maid), Telemachus (the son), and Helen (of Troy).
The tale is ubiquitous in pop culture, and this retelling doesn’t change the plot so much as it challenges your perspective of the events. However, there still are surprises due to Atwood’s clever changes in writing style throughout the novel, and the fact that the story is told in modern times. My personal favorite moment of the book is an absurdist style 21st-century trial scene of Odysseus for the killing of the Suitors. The Maids then break in and speak up about their murders (since no one else seems to care about women slaves dying, go figure) with Penelope being a witness on their behalf.
Is this a good discussion book?
Between its brevity, how easy it is to read, and the familiar story, it makes a good choice for book clubs as opposed to something harder like War and Peace. There are a few main topics to discuss, such as the difference between this and the original story, the feminist aspect, and the oddness of the random modern day references. Due to it being fairly short it was one of the harder books to keep the discussion going for a long amount of time. Luckily, we were in an amazing restaurant, so we were able to fill our time (and bellies) up with good food and beer.
Book rating: 4.7 of 5 Bookmarks
Monnik is a brewpub that lies in the heart of Schnitzelburg, which believe it or not, is the German part of town. That influence comes through strongly in both the food and beer selection. You will be tempted by savory-sounding snacks as appetizers for your meal. Follow that feeling. Be warned though, they use the term “snack” loosely. The amount can be considered a meal in itself. If you want to get a Monnik special, try the mayo and sour beef covered Donder Fries, which will make you question ever using ketchup with fries again. Not all the food is German, they have the standard burgers of any American brewpub. BBQ, chicken salad, and Cuban sandwiches are also all available with little differences to make them unique. The vegetarian options are mostly salads, other than a green lentil-based Shepard’s Pie. Regardless, if you choose one of those or stick with a nice hefty German Sauerbraten, the curry baked beans should be on your shortlist for sides.
The most important decision of your visit will be which beer to drink, of which there are a huge variety. If you’ve been to a bar in Louisville before with craft beers on draft, you have most likely seen a Monnik beer featured. A selection of six house-made beers are on their permanent menu, and always available. Along with those six, batches of others made in-house and from other breweries are available on tap. Like stouts and literary references? Try the His Dark Materials milk stout. Looking for something a little lighter? Try the King George brown ale. Like IPAs? Try the cleverly named IPA called IPA. Are you a 17th century Paulaner monk who drinks beer for sustenance during Lent? Try the Etcetorator doppelbock. If you can’t decide, then there is always the option of getting samples to try them out. If it turns out you really like one, you can get a growler to take home.
The entire establishment was renovated in 2015, and with that came a modern style. Monnik largely features wood tables, with metal painted black for that urban loft look. The main room has the bar, with beautifully ran silver taps for all the different beers you will be trying. In the center of the room is a raised Social Table, which has more free seating if the bar is full. The outdoor patio fits with the aesthetic of the inside but is not quite as nice. The black metal tables seem flimsy, and appear to have been worn down by the weather. The flooring is just a concrete slab, which hasn’t been finished. It is still very nice and cozy out there, but just doesn’t have the polished look of inside. They allow dogs out there, so that makes up for any slights it may have.
Ease of discussion
A bus full of people on a beer tour showed up during our discussion and proceeded to take over a large part of the bar and seating around us. This increased volume of noise did cause some communication issues, though we were still able to finish the discussion. Prior to that unfortunately timed arrival, it was quiet enough to discuss with no issues. As nice as it is inside, if the weather cooperates then the back patio would provide an even more opportune location for a Books and Beers, I mean Reads and Feeds discussion.