Archives for posts with tag: margaret atwood

So much of this book reminded me of my childhood, and not in a pleasant way. It reminded me so much of the messed up relationships I had with ‘friends’ at school, girls who were so nasty and spiteful and who made my school days a torture. Atwood inhabited the life of an unhappy and bullied child perfectly “Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life-sized.” which described that horrid loneliness I felt as a child, knowing that adults either felt that my problems didn’t exist or truly understanding that there was really nothing they could do about it. Maybe this is when we lose innocence, when we realise we have to solve our own problems.

Yet despite all of that, this book took the sting out of so much of what those girls did in my life.  Unexpectedly, Elaine’s ‘best friend’ Cordelia was reduced to a small, frightened and unloved little girl, incredibly troubled by life. And then a funny thing happened. The girls from my childhood suddenly became small, and frightened, and troubled by the neglect of their fathers. It took away the hurt and distress of my memories and replaced them with empathy and compassion. I feel like the boogie man has been chased out of my cupboard.

In other respects, this book was a depressing one. And by that I don’t mean that anything terribly bad happened, as not terribly much happened at all. By that I mean there was a general depressive mood to the whole thing. Elaine, the main character, mused on her old age and the discomfort she felt at feeling washed up and out-of-place in the fashionable art scene she didn’t feel a part of. Yet, from what I could gather she was only in her late forties. Either times have changed radically in the last twenty years and forty is no longer old, or she was reflecting on how invisible and irrelevant women often feel at that age.

Along with the depressive mood I felt like there was something malevolent about the book. As though someone was about to die dramatically (I worried constantly about her brother) or there would be some horrid twist in the plot. Nothing of consequence really happened like that, but it still felt like there was a soundtrack of babies crying and high-pitched violins playing the whole time I was reading. It made it pretty disturbing.

Despite all that it was still a good book. She portrayed post-war Canada in a really beautiful way and the impression I have in my mind now is still from the beginning of the book when she lived in a time of innocence, before girl friends, wandering the country with her parents and brother collecting bug samples and living in the forest.

Now reading: March – Geraldine Brooks


Margaret Atwood always manages to draw me into her world. Generally it’s a dark-ish, thought provoking world and The Robber Bride is no different. The story follows three women – Tony, Charis and Roz – and how their lives are impacted by a fourth woman – Zenia – who seems to be the fountain of all evil: man-eater, money launderer and chicken killer.

The blurb on the back says that ‘it’s a story from the front lines of the war of the sexes’ and I guess you can call it that although the men in the story play sideline roles and their importance is only in how Zenia managed to manipulate them. It is well written as Margaret Atwood always is and the characters are intriguing in that you can’t quite work out whether you like them or not.

What I found to be confronting about this book was how the women react to the men in their lives, and how Atwood uses Zenia to expose the baby-ing of men that women who love them often do, myself included.  Little things women do for their men, such as making sure they eat well, and don’t have to deal with ‘life’ decisions outside of their workplace, that over time could become smothering are used in The Robber Bride as a backdrop for the infidelities and plot twists that occur. What struck me was that while these may be background, if they weren’t taking place then would the foreground, namely Zenia, have happened? I don’t know but I’m working on it.

The novel ends with Tony asking herself how much is she like Zenia but what I struggle with more is not how like Zenia I am but rather how like Tony, Charis and Roz I am and what can I do to change – both for the benefit of my husband and of myself.

First of all, I cannot believe that this book was written in 1985.
Secondly, I am stunned at how prescient her tale is, how alarmingly possible the world is that she projected in this novel.

There is so much to say about this book and I am sure I will forget most of it in the writing.  I feel as though it is one of those books that I will keep returning to in my mind, thinking about different aspects as they apply to life.

A bit of a spoiler alert. I know that some people like spoilers. I do not. Therefore the spoiler alert.

Attwood lures you in to the story from the first page, presenting the reality of the Republic of Gilead as it is, with no explanation. While I have found that this is pretty common of science fiction in general, it seems to be important to outline the details of the fantasy universe early on to allow the story to begin, I often find it difficult to enter in to a completely foreign world without any hook to draw me in. Yet the hook was present from the very first page. This is a world of women she constructs, of individuals who have been picked for an unknown reason and who are desperate to hold on to their identities.
I really admired the constraint of the author in this book, we don’t find out what caused the collapse of the government and the creation of the Republic of Gilead until well in to the book, and when we do it felt so alarmingly plausible (particularly in the context of this year, with debates over the place of nuclear power following the earthquake in Fukushima and the ongoing religious tensions throughout the world) that a chill definitely settled on my spine.

While it wasn’t a pleasant read I consumed this book with greed, desperate to know what became of Offred, where the relationship with Commander would lead, if the Republic of Gilead would ever end. So when I came to the rather abrupt end of Offred being led off in the van, I felt the jarring absence of closure, the dystopian nature of the book reaching its climax. With this mindset, I found myself very uncomfortable reading the last chapter, presented as ‘historical notes’, and it took me a good while to understand my reaction to the story ending the way it did. The last chapter afforded me a relief that Offred, or ‘June’, was relatively safe, that she had managed to escape and had reached some sort of safety. Yet I was so angry at the flippant way the future historians discussed her case, and the material they had found. Having expended so much empathy on Offred and the other Handmaids it was so difficult to ‘listen’ to a speech delivered by future historians which included jokes, speculations on her identity and on the intricacies of figuring out how to compile the material. I think it was then, in my anger, that I realised just how the craft of historians can be so frequently dismissive of lived experience, devoid of compassion and of empathy towards the individuals within the archives. While I feel that this has changed very much within the last ten or twenty years within historical scholarship, it was a cautionary note to me to always treat the people I write about in the past with respect and compassion.

Ultimately, I felt that this book sent a passionate message about the importance of society being ever vigilant to a woman’s right to control her body. I have become aware this year through incidents in the US surrounding reproductive rights just how frail and hard-won our rights to abortion and contraception are. It is a right that has to be constantly defended and pushed for. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood offers a beautifully written horror story of what happens to a society when inequality is permitted to persist.

Currently reading: The Bell by Iris Murdoch
Currently listening to: The university bell ringing the hour (ie. I should be doing work but I’ve started a blog instead)

Having an excellent bookshop on campus is a dangerous thing. When the writing gets too hard, when I’m experiencing a sugar crash, when it’s cold outside, when the office is too hot, when it’s pay-day (as it is today) or when I am wearing shoes, it feels like a good idea to stroll up to the bookshop and see what’s going on. Usually I leave with at least one book, sometimes more.

I have been sucked right in to the marketing campaign of Vintage with their sumptuous ( I don’t use that word lightly, or regularly) covers to celebrate their 21st birthday. The velvet touch and saturated colours are irresistible, as is the price, and I just happened to buy myself two new books from that range. What I love most of all is the colour appropriateness of it all. I recently read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood in its velvet crimson covered addition and it added so much to the reading experience. A link to the collection, While reading it, I was Offred surrounded by the red hood of the handmaids, totally immersed in her world.The other Vintage release I purchased was Orange Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, suitably covered in a beautiful deep tangerine orange. Looking forward to reading it as it comes highly recommended by J, my book friend.

My intention with this blog is to chronicle the books that I read through the coming year. For the past few years I have looked back and found it so very difficult to remember all of the wonderful books I have read, so this is my attempt at keeping track. Sure, I could write it down on paper, but that would be really procrastinating and I have a thesis to write goddamnit.Also, a cautionary note. Blog posts will be littered with incorrect spelling and grammar. It’s how I roll.

This year has not been a stunning year for my reading. The selection has mostly been a sea of ordinary, dotted with islands of brilliance that make the journey feel worthwhile. Most of the good ones have been science fiction.

My top five for 2011

-The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
-The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin
-Her Father’s Daughter by Alice Pung
-The Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy by Tad Williams
-The Bell by Iris Murdoch (I’m still reading it but I already know it will be in the top five.)
-Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (cause I’m innumerate)

Here’s to a good year of reading in 2012!