One of my favourite childhood books was a collection of stories about Greek mythology. I was fascinated by Artemis and Athena, by Poseidon and Apollo. Later on, my fascination with mythologies from other cultures continued – discovering the Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (my review), and more recently learning about the Indian gods and beliefs.

So it’s no wonder that I was super excited to read the 2 books inspired by Greek mythology:

  • Phaedra by Laura Shepperson – a book I discovered via NetGalley, to be published in January 2023
  • The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood – a book I heard of from one of my favourite Romanian bookstagrammer @carturarese

Phaedra by Laura Shepperson

Phaedra in a nutshell

Phaedra by Laura Shepperson is a retelling of the Greek mythological story of Phaedra. In case you’re not aware who Phaedra was – no worries, you’re not the only one πŸ™‚ Phaedra was a princess from Crete, half-sister of Minotaur and bride of Theseus.

According to the classic story, she fell in love with her stepson and then she accused him of trying to rape her. But maybe there’s another side of the story… maybe Phaedra’s voice was not heard until now.

My overall impression

Reading Phaedra is like stepping through a magic door to ancient Greece, during the times when democracy was first discussed, when people believed in gods and goddesses.

What I liked most is the witty narrative structure – Shepperson included the overlooked voices of women from different classes (princesses, maids, even a chorus of women’s voices at night). It was a nice reminder that even in the times ruled by men, women were still having important contributions, unfortunately most of the time from the shadow.

I also enjoyed the rapid switch of the narrative views from character to character, each one bringing a different aspect to the journey. As reader, I was felt as being on pins and needles (in a good way!!) to see what will happen next, who brings the next point of view.

A downside from my reading experience was that the fragmented narration was sometimes a bit difficult to follow – I felt that some narrative jumps were difficult to re-connect with the main storyline.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

The Penelopiad in a nutshell

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood is a short and witty imagined story inspired by Homer’s Odyssey, but with a twist – told from Penelope’s point of view.

Penelope was the wife of Odysseus and cousin of beautiful Helen of Troy, and she is known to be a symbol of devoted wife – she waited for 20 years for her husband to get back from the Trojan War.

My overall impression

The Penelopiad is a super captivating story! Sprinkled with funny comments, typical Atwood style, this is a book you will enjoy reading for sure πŸ™‚

Penelope is the main narrator of the story, addressing historical misconceptions and commenting on the role of women. The book has a chorus as well, made of the 12 maids of Penelope – a collective narrative voice that brings additional insights from women’s points of view.

What I enjoyed most was the playful narrative style and the authenticity of Penelope as an imagined character. I found charming that Atwood took advantage of the blanks surrounding Penelope (as the Odyssey is focused Odysseus’s absence and return), and imagined her life as a more exciting story. Yes, maybe she was patient and loyal, but there could have been more to her life then that.

As an interesting bit of information – it seems that initially Atwood was thinking of writing a re-telling of a Nordic myth, but struggled so much that she was even thinking of cancelling her commitment (The Independent, 2008). The book is part of the Canongate Myth Series, a series of novellas in which ancient myths from various cultures are reimagined.

If you would like to buy these books, or other (non)bookish things, please consider using one of these links: Amazon | Waterstones | Carturesti. Thank you!

Do you enjoy reading books inspired by ancient mythologies? What are your favourite myth-related retellings? I’d love to discover more books focused on mythological topics!

‘Till next time … happy reading!


4 thoughts on “Women’s voices from Greek mythology: Phaedra by Laura Shepperson and The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (book review)

    1. Hello, Tierney! Haven’t read Circe read, but I read The Song of Achilles by the same author and I enjoyed it πŸ˜€
      Sorry for answering with such a big delay! Happy New Year and I hope your leg is doing better (saw the update on instagram)!!

      Liked by 1 person

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