Just finished speed reading that novella, by one of my favorite novelists.
It was just the right mixture of alternate point of view remake (Penelope and Oddyseus), first person narrator, poetry interludes (the Chorous, composed of the 12 maids hung by O. for "fraternizing" with the suitors), bitter women, feminist in-your-faceness, and just punkish wry humor. It's not very long, either. Took me about an afternoon to read. (Well, I'm a fast reader. Sometimes too fast.)
I'm a great fan of Atwood, though a retired professor friend, Bob, told me once that she was a pain in the tuckus when she visited one of his colleagues as a Guest Reader. The colleague called Bob and said "Help." Bob had to go over there and provide entertainment, I guess, as she worked and worked it. I got the impression she was something like Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest.
I try to keep these anecdotes out of my head when I'm reading great novels, such as Orynx and Crake. I don't think there's been an Atwood novel that I haven't admitted is very good, even if I don't particularly groove on it. The only novel that I didn't particularly groove on, if you must know, was The Blind Assassin. Supposedly a mystery, one of my faves, and a sci fi novel. But it was just boring, in parts, in my humble opinion. If I went back to reread it, though, I might change my mind.
The Handmaid's Tale, Alias Grace, Cat's Eye--all of these novels are great. Atwood's short stories are always short (a quality that many writers don't seem to possess), witty, and instructive. "Happy Endings," the ubiquitous short story found in every literature anthology known to human beings on a college campus, is one of my favorites. Given the choice, someone in a 25 person Intro to Lit course will always choose to write about it.
Hip hip hooray for Atwood!
Now I'm starting, at last, the fat fat Pynchon novel. It begins oddly (I'm one chapter in) with some Hardy Boyish banter about some kids in a hot air balloon.