It is a rare and wonderful thing to find a writer who is as dazzling in person as she is in print. Canadian novelist, poet, inventor, environmental activist and general badass Margaret Atwood is one such writer. If you have yet to read anything by her (boy, are you in for a treat), drop everything at once and get your mitts on her incendiary works.
I would recommend starting with The Handmaid’s Tale, which is Atwood’s most recognisable, heart-wrenching and utterly terrifying dystopian novel to date. Set in the Republic of Gilead (a post-apocalyptic Boston), the narrator Offred (a play on the word “offered”) is trapped in a totalitarian, patriarchal-theocratic state that regulates her every move. As Offred tells the story of her daily life, she reveals the harrowing horrors of the regime that has replaced the United States of America, where the majority of its population are enslaved, raped, butchered, sterilised and sent to radioactive colonies to die. This book is as powerful as it is beautiful and, most frightening of all, it is entirely believable in the age of Trump. (It is also a decorated Netflix series, but we still haven’t forgiven MGM and Hulu for cheating Atwood out of her royalties. Grr!).
After The Handmaid’s Tale renders you fundamentally and permanently changed, I would suggest taking a hot second to recover before satiating your new Atwood addiction with her steamy faux-Victorian novel, Alias Grace. Also on Netflix (are you starting to see a theme here?), this novel depicts the haunted story of convicted murderess Grace Marks, imprisoned for the brutal murders of Mr. Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper and mistress Nancy Montgomery. In an effort to strengthen Grace’s appeal for a pardon, American and Harvard-educated Dr. Simon Jordan is enlisted to interview Grace on a regular basis, in the hopes of recovering her lost memories of the murders. So begins their scintillatingly sensual liaison, which is as tantalising as it is disturbing.
After leaving yourself some time to recover from that admittedly intense novel, you might be ready to move on to another towering work: Atwood’s tenth novel, The Blind Assassin, which won her the Man Booker Prize in 2000. This novel actually encompasses three books in one, cutting between the storylines of the eighty-two year old heroine Iris Chase Griffen, her memoir, and her novel (also named The Blind Assassin). I warn you, this one’s a biggie and impossible to put down – make sure you’re sitting comfortably.
Now that you are well on your way to becoming an established Atwoodphile, Oryx and Crake, Cat’s Eye and Surfacing should be next on your reading list. But if you are suffering from novel-fatigue at this point, not to worry: Atwood is also a prolific poet; a good dose of her scrummy poetry never goes amiss. Her collections Eating Fire, Morning in the Burned House, and Power Politics are great places to start. For a taster, here’s an extract from ‘Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing’: “They’d like to see through me, but nothing is more opaque than transparency […] You think I’m not a goddess? Try me. This is a torch song. “Touch me and you’ll burn.”
Image: Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación Argentina via Flickr.