Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rosie's Riveters: Paula & Penelope

Rosie the Riveter
Rosie's Riveters is a weekly posting written by Booklust readers about riveting females in literature. Many readers have strong reactions to the women in the books they read- either very positive or very negative. These are the characters we find riveting, for good reasons or bad ones, and they form the population of Rosie's Riveters. Through this weekly post, we can discuss females we love to hate, or love to love. And maybe, just maybe- we can determine why we react so strongly to them.

I am no longer accepting people to participate in the Rosie's Riveters series.  The participants I currently have on the list will all have their chance to share their favorite or most hated woman, and then we shall start the new With Reverent Hands series on this blog.  More details on With Reverent Hands can be found in my Sunday Salon post here.

This week's post (the last one!) is by Paula Butturini, the author of Keeping the Feast, a book I reviewed yesterday.  I thoroughly enjoyed Butturini's memoir about living with a loved one who suffers from depression, and the struggles that go along with it.  She went up even higher in my estimation when she submitted the following Riveter, based on a book I really enjoyed reading!

The publishers are being so kind as to offer a FREE copy of Keeping the Feast to a lucky BookLust reader located in the US or Canada.  To enter, leave a comment WITH YOUR E-MAIL ADDRESS and say what your ideal Italian destination would be.  I'll draw a name on Sunday.

Who is your Riveter?
 Penelope, wife of Odysseus, and the not-quite-beautiful cousin of Helen of Troy.

What book does she feature in?
 The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood, in which Homer's The Odyssey is finally told -- just a few thousand years late -- from the female side, by Penelope, the faithful wife, instead of from the testosterone side (in which Odysseus managed to spend ten years away fighting the Trojan War and another ten wandering the Aegean Sea, supposedly trying his best to get home).  

Do you love her or hate her?
 I adore her, of course. What's not to love about a character who begins her tale: "Now that I'm dead I know everything. This is what I wished would happen, but like so many of my wishes it failed to come true. ... Since being dead -- since achieving this state of bonelessness, liplessness, breastlessness -- I've learned some things I'd rather not know, as one does when listening at windows or opening other people's letters. You think you'd like to read minds? Think again."

Describe her personality -- how would you compare her to a friend?
 Penelope is clear-eyed and clever, droll, sardonic, and utterly elemental. She's seen everything, understood just about everything, and had the singular freedom to do as she pleased for twenty years while her husband was away. She's a rare bird, indeed, who ruled Odysseus' ancient kingdom, and who both tricked and stood up to the Suitors who pursued her, not for herself, of course, but for Odysseus' riches and power.  

Can you compare her to a celebrity?
I would compare her to Meryl Streep, in all her power and glory today as a wise, well-seasoned woman, somewhat like the character she's playing now in the film, "It's Complicated."

What makes her riveting?
Penelope is trying to set the record straight about one of the Western world's most potent myths, and to tell it from the woman's side, in all its power and might. She takes command of the difficult life she was given, no small feat even thousands of years later, and uses her brains and skills to keep herself whole throughout the two decades she is on her own.

It was Penelope who devised the stratagem of holding off the Suitors who pursue her by declaring she cannot begin to think about choosing a new husband until she finishes weaving the finest burial shroud for her father-in-law; it was she who delays her decision indefinitely by undoing at night the work she accomplishes during the long days her husband is away.

What do you most admire about her?
Her determination and her loyalty, not just to Odysseus but to her twelve beloved maids, the youngest, most beautiful maids, her trusted eyes and ears, the ones whom the Suitors had raped, the ones Odysseus ordered killed upon his return. She never stopped trying to wrest control of the utterly complicated life the Fates had given her, and she remained loyal to him and to them, who paid the ultimate price for their loyalty to her.

Would you recommend reading the book in which she features?
A thousand times yes! It's short -- not two hundred pages -- and all the more potent and mesmerizing for its brevity. It sucks one in. I read it through the first time in one hypnotic sitting, and was so ensnared by its force that I turned back to the first page the instant I finished and started it all over again. Atwood beats Homer at his own game, hands down.

Do you have a quote by your Riveter you'd like to share?
During the years Odysseus is away, Penelope tells us that rumors of his whereabouts fly:

"Odysseus was the guest of a goddess on an enchanted isle, said some; she'd turned his men into pigs -- not a hard job in my view -- but had turned them back into men because she'd fallen in love with him and was feeding him unheard-of delicacies prepared by her own immortal hands, and the two of them made love deliriously every night; no, said others, it was just an expensive whorehouse, and he was sponging off the Madam."


  1. Makes me wanna read the book, it is on my list, but for some reason I have never managed to find it in the library..even though it is there

  2. Penelope is so a riveter! Makes me want to reread The Penelopiad; I love re-tellings of myths and fairytales, especially when they are subverted.

    Aarti, Rosie's Riveters was a wonderful series; I am so glad that I took part and I am looking forward to your new feature. Good luck!

  3. I loved this book. I think that Margaret Atwood writes really vivid female characters. I find I can relate to the trials they undure and their feminity.

  4. After reading The Handmaid's Tale, I struggled with the next two Atwood books I tried to read. Maybe the Penelopiad is where I should go next - sounds amazing.

  5. Blodeuedd- That's strange. It's quite short, but very good :-)

    Paperback Reader- Yes, she really is! I like subverted retellings as well. I have on my list of books to read The Firebrand, which tells the Trojan War from a female perspective.

    Jenn- This is the only Atwood I've ever read myself, but most people seem to agree with you.

    Jenny- It's definitely *short*, so it wouldn't be too hard to commit to!

    Don't forget to enter the giveaway, people in the US/Canada!

  6. I've never read The Penelopiad, but this interview makes me want to read it. I especially enjoyed Paula's comparison of Penelope with Meryl Streep. I love Meryl Streep, hence it stands to reason that I should love Penelope. :)

    I'd love to join in this giveaway. How can I not! I so want to read Keeping the Feast!

    My ideal Italian destination is Sicily! PS: Will the winner win a sponsored trip to Italy as well? *wink wink*

    ReadingOnARainyDay AT gmail DOT com

  7. Oooh, you've got me wanting to read this one now and bonus! my library has a copy sitting on the shelf!

    Thanks for all the work you and the contributors put into Rosie's Riveters, Aarti - it's been such a great resource to (re)discover some wonderful female characters.

  8. My mom has mentioned this book to me a few times but I never really bothered to look into it. Now, it's definitely going on my list!

  9. Aarti,
    It's awesome that you got Paula to participate! I am just beginning to feel the Atwood love and bought a few of her books the other day at the bookstore. Alas, this was not one of them, but I am on my way over to paperback swap to see if I can grab a copy for myself. Great Riveter, Paula!

  10. Oh wow! I have to read an Atwood book for a challenge this year and now I might want to read this one. Great interview!

    I've love to win a copy of the Keeping the Feast too! Thanks for hosting a giveaway! My dream Italian getaway would be Rome - I'd love to see the center of it all and all of the history!

  11. I'd love to enter the giveaway for Keeping the Feast! And I think I'd like to see the Vatican - I've wanted to visit it ever since I saw Gregory Peck in "The Scarlet and the Black".


    mdperera at hotmail dot com

  12. I've always wanted to go to Florence. And Tuscany. And The Amalfi Coast. And Rome of course. Do I have to pick just one?!! I guess I'll take The Amalfi Coast!

    nbmars AT yahoo DOT com

  13. I want to read the book Keeping the Feast. My favorite choice of a place to visit in Italy would be Tuscany.

    bstilwell12 at comcast dot net

  14. I would love to read Keeping The Feast. I would love to go to Venice, after reading The City of Fallen Angels. I appreciate the opportunity!

    gingercatranch at gmail dot com

  15. I would love to win Keeping the Feast.

    PS are you interested in having BOOKLUST all on the same line-copy your photo to picnic and you can then add your writing to it.

    chocolate and croissants at yahoo dot com

  16. Awesome Riveter!! The Penelopiad sounds amazing. I'm so glad Paula participated, and what a great choice she made!

  17. Tough decision! I believe I would most like to visit mother's family originally came from this area.
    sierranelsby (at) gmail (dot) com


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