Simply put, this is a brilliant book, one of Atwood’s best. Three women (Tony, Charis and Roz) are each linked to Zenia, a brilliant and beautiful woman who is manipulative and ruthless. Over three decades, Zenia exerts considerable damage by creating really toxic relationships, but all three women remain in thrall, under a spell, beguiled. Even though Zenia’s lies and cons become obvious she somehow retains their sympathy while betraying their trust and treating male partners as loot. Fantastic story-telling.
Tag: Margaret Atwood
Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood
Elaine, a middle-aged painter who lives in Vancouver, returns to Toronto (where she grew up) for a retrospective show of her paintings. This causes her to reminisce about her life. The entire book is great but for me, the first 1/3 is perfect. Atwood wonderfully captures the relationships between 8- to 10-year-olds, alternating between friendships and toxic competitions. School with corporal punishments and skipping grades, shopping and shoplifting things at Woolworths. And how children acquire (mis)information in an era when parental communication was non-existent. Another gem.
Lady Oracle – Margaret Atwood
This is another literary prize book with some inspired comic events like joining Brownies as a child. The core of the story is about split identities; Joan was fat as a child and then transforms Ito a slim attractive version of herself. Jean also writes “Costume Gothic” books (aka Harlequin Romances) under a pseudonym. Many examples of this writing are included: Redmond is described as having rapacious lips, thinks that “he’d become tired of the extravagance of his wife Felicia: of her figure that spread like crabgrass, her hair that spread like fire, her mind that spread like pubic lice”! Wow. In contrast to this florid prose, Atwood’s classic phrasings like “the joy of self-righteous recrimination” are a joy to read. Joan even acquires another identity as a serious author of poetry so her personality is split further. And there are ill-fated relationships with men and blackmail. This book is a delightful pleasure to read.
Surfacing – Margaret Atwood
An early Atwood treasure from the 1970s with beautiful descriptive writing – this description off a restaurant meal is on page 1: “two restaurants which served identical grey hamburger steaks plastered with mud gravy and canned peas, watery and pallid as fish eyes, and french fries heavy with lard”. Is your mouth watering? The narrator is an un-named young woman who travels to a remote lake in Northern Quebec with three friends, to seek her missing father. There is an eerily effective transition to sinister happenings, but the true gem of the writing is the unfiltered dialog in the narrator’s head: this story is both spooky and brilliant, a must read.
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
I first read this amazing book about 30 years ago so a re-reading was in order as a prelude to her new book The Testaments. And simply put, the Handmaid’s Tale is a masterpiece. Atwood’s writing is perfect, a slow reveal of the horrors of the Gilead revolution: the rise of totalitarianism and religious fundamentalism, the loss of women’s rights and autonomy with rampant misogyny. Handmaids are possessed by men (Of Fred = Offred) as breeders and are not taught to read! It is chilling to realize that many of the regressive features of Gilead are happening now throughout the world. Atwood is a national treasure.
The Testaments – Margaret Atwood
As a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments is equally compelling but with a very different tone. Whereas The Handmaid’s Tale had a single narrator (Offred), The Testaments (set 16 years later) has three voices: two very different young women, one raised in Gilead and one raised outside, and the notorious Aunt Lydia. The resulting story is less introspective with more action, thus less reactive. The seeds of dissent are outlined clearly and logically with some Machiavellian motivations. This is a page turner, a completely engrossing read.
Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
This book has been on a bookshelf in my home since 1997 but somehow I have never read it, to my chagrin. Atwood’s writing is impeccable, adopting the style of the mid-1800s in letters, for example. Her portrait of the enigmatic Grace Marks is breathtaking: poverty in childhood, a hard life in service, accused of being an accessory to murder at age 16 followed by 20 years of incarceration. The context of early versions of psychiatry and hypnotherapy are detailed carefully. Overall, a joy to read.
Hag-Seed – Margaret Atwood
The Hogarth Shakespeare project enlists accomplished authors to retell Shakespeare classics (e.g. Hamlet retold by Gillian Flynn, Macbeth retold by Jo Nesbo). Hag-Seed is Atwood’s version ofThe Tempest, and it is exceptional. First, there is Atwood’s sublime prose: “The door clicks and he walks into the warmth and that unique smell. Unfresh paint, faint mildew, unloved food eaten in boredom, and the smell of dejection, the shoulders slumping down, the head bowed, the body caving in upon itself”. This wonderful passage describes a prison, hence the evocative phrasing. And second, Atwood’s plot emphasizes a delicious revenge. So the book is great fun, with a detailed exposition of the enigmatic parts of the Tempest at the end of the book.
Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood
This book is subtitled “wicked tales” and these 9 stories absolutely are wickedly entertaining. The first three stories are particularly good as they are linked by common characters. An attractive feature of this collection is that Atwood writes about mature older characters.