This is a retelling of the famous myth of Odysseus and Penelope. But it wouldn’t be Atwood if it was just a simple retelling of events. We get to see the other side of the story. The part where Penelope sits at home for more than twenty years waiting for her husband. The story is actually told by Penelope herself, now a resident of the Fields of Asphodel, the realm of the dead in Greek mythology.
In her account of the story she tells us how hard it was for her to watch her numerous suitors gorge away on her food supplies and how she had to come up with several tricks in order to keep them at bay. We also find out that Penelope actually recognized Odysseus in his beggar’s disguise right away but played along for several reasons. And she is not shy in telling us what she thought about her cousin Helen of Troy and her man-eating ways.
Apart from this the story is interlaced with “performances” by the twelve maids that where killed by Telemachus after his father had won Penelope for the second time and had slayed the remaining suitors. In fact, the story keeps returning to these maids and questions their guilt and Penelope’s honesty.
Do you have to know the story of Odysseus and Penelope to understand Atwood’s version? Yes, it definitely helps. But there is no need to get Homer’s [b:The Odyssey|1381|The Odyssey|Homer|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51ypfZKKOmL._SL75_.jpg|3356006] and fight your way through it first. A general knowledge of Greek mythology and what happens in the Odyssee is enough to make one appreciate Atwood’s angle and her (sometimes very feminist) theories about Penelope and her twelve maids.