Content warning Long review: Mentions of views that exclude and misrepresent sex workers.
I started reading this book before Atwood decided to publicly pull a Rowling, acting as if the word woman "could no longer be used" because of some transphobic nonsense.
But even before she did that, had I read and finished this book without that context, a lot of conservative views would've been present that I wouldn't have expected based on her older work that I've read.
This book has a lot of in-text slut-shaming, and a lot of it feels like a lot of it is based in frustration of promiscuous women, sex workers, and anyone else who uses sex (or the imagery of sex) for their work. Despite the initial complaint at the beginning that Penelope has been "used to beat other women" into being good and loyal wives (as a sort of "double standard"), Atwood writes a Penelope who maintains a disdain for people who (according to the writing) choose to engage in behaviours that make them more desirable to others.
There's a clear delineation between the "sympathy" (which is questionably written, at best) for the 12 maids who were murdered by Odysseus and Telemachus because their actions were initially about self-preservation (of Penelope and thus themselves) and how Atwood's Penelope views Helen of Troy (who has zero sympathy and rarely ever has a scene that isn't hostile towards her). Atwood writes sympathy for their sexuality because so much of it came as a result of rape and forced prostitution. She portrays the maids in many of the same ways that people assume sex work looks like: trafficked. And the maids very much are because they're stated to be slaves, to have been purchased or stolen from their families, to have been "permissibly" raped by the masters who owned them... but the writing appears to connect their lives to those of sex workers today. Much of the same language exists here that exists in circles that exclude sex workers.
It's gross. It feels gross. This book would've been a big hint that... Atwood has a lot of exclusionary views that refuse to integrate the experience of certain people into her so-called "feminism."