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Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood

Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood

I read this years ago – before my blog, and then it popped up on Borrowbox, so I thought I would listen to it.

Here’s the blurb…

Cat’s Eye is the story of Elaine Risley, a controversial painter who returns to Toronto, the city of her youth, for a retrospective of her art. Engulfed by vivid images of the past, she reminisces about a trio of girls who initiated her into the fierce politics of childhood and its secret world of friendship, longing, and betrayal. Elaine must come to terms with her own identity as a daughter, a lover, and artist, and woman—but above all she must seek release from her haunting memories. Disturbing, hilarious, and compassionate, Cat’s Eye is a breathtaking novel of a woman grappling with the tangled knots of her life.

I like all of Atwood’s writing, but my favourite are (what I call) her women’s novels (Blind Assassin, Alias Grace, etc). I like being inside their heads and following them through life. For me, this one was about female friendships and how the effects ripple through a life. As you would expect, the writing is beautiful.

A review

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Old Babes in the Wood – Margaret Atwood

Old Babes in the Wood – Margaret Atwood

I am a Margaret Atwood fan although I haven’t read many of her short stories.

Here’s the blurb …

A dazzling collection of short stories from the internationally acclaimed, award-winning author of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments, stories that look deeply into the heart of family relationships, marriage, loss and memory, and what it means to spend a life together

Margaret Atwood has established herself as one of the most visionary and canonical authors in the world. This collection of fifteen extraordinary stories–some of which have appeared in The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine–explore the full warp and weft of experience, speaking to our unique times with Atwood’s characteristic insight, wit and intellect.

The two intrepid sisters of the title story grapple with loss and memory on a perfect summer evening; “Impatient Griselda” explores alienation and miscommunication with a fresh twist on a folkloric classic; and “My Evil Mother” touches on the fantastical, examining a mother-daughter relationship in which the mother purports to be a witch. At the heart of the collection are seven extraordinary stories that follow a married couple across the decades, the moments big and small that make up a long life of uncommon love–and what comes after.

Returning to short fiction for the first time since her 2014 collection Stone Mattress, Atwood showcases both her creativity and her humanity in these remarkable tales which by turns delight, illuminate, and quietly devastate.

I listened to this (borrowed from Borrowbox) and some of the stories were narrated by Atwood herself. My favourite story was My Evil Mother. Impatient Griselda is hilarious (particularly in a post-Covid world). All of the stories are excellent and I suspect the Nell and Tig stories (the seven stories about a married couple) might be autobiographical.

Here’s an interview with the ABC.

A review

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Hag Seed – Margaret Atwood

Hag Seed – Margaret Atwood

I don’t think I have read an Atwood novel that I haven’t liked. So I was keen to read this – I did ask at my local Dymocks and they hadn’t heard of it, which is very upsetting. Anyway this is a re-telling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest (part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project). I know nothing about The Tempest, so I read the wikipedia summary (although having read that I think The Collector by John Fowles might have some Tempest allusions – there is a Miranda, a man who wants to be called Ferdinand, but gets called Caliban – I do wonder now what my English Lit teacher was thinking not to mention Shakespeare?)

Here’s the blurb …

The Tempest is set on a remote island full of strange noises and creatures. Here, Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, plots to restore the fortunes of his daughter Miranda by using magic and illusion — starting with a storm that will bring Antonio, his treacherous brother, to him. All Prospero, the great sorcerer, needs to do is watch as the action he has set in train unfolds.

In Margaret Atwood’s ‘novel take’ on Shakespeare’s original, theatre director Felix has been unceremoniously ousted from his role as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre. When he lands a job teaching theatre in a prison, the possibility of revenge presents itself — and his cast find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest that will change their lives forever.

I found this to be quite the page turner – and I am quite sure I wouldn’t have found the original to be so enthralling.

It is such a clever, fun, modern interpretation (and the prisoners offer insightful commentary about the original).

As with all Atwood novels, it is beautifully written – her choice of words is extraordinary (it must be the poet in her). I wish she would write for the Austen project, which apart from Northanger Abbey has been quite disappointing.

More reviews …




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The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last - Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood

I do like Atwood novels. Clearly I had to read this one as soon as possible – I think I even pre-ordered it.

Here’s the blurb …

Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.

This novel had an intriguing premise – people live normal lives for a month and then are imprisoned for a month. They have ‘alternates’ with whom they share a house – when you are in prison your alternate is in the house and vice-versa. In this way a community only needs half as many houses and jobs. The community is extremely isolated – once you are in you can’t leave, there is no internet access and the only media available is produced by Consilience. As you no doubt imagine, sinister things are afoot. What has happened to the original (and true criminals)? What exactly does Charmaine do in her prison time (I will give you a clue the title has something to do with her job)? There are affairs, sex dolls, headless chickens and mind control through brain surgery. Atwood paints a dreary picture of the future and what big business will do to us all – and then we hear about the antics of VW and realise big business probably is amoral.

More reviews …




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Stone Mattress – Margaret Atwood

Stone Mattress - Margaret Atwood

Stone Mattress – Margaret Atwood

I really enjoy Atwood’s novels – not so much her later post-apocalyptic works (although I did like them), but her other novels like Blind Assassin and Alias Grace. Anyway I always try to read her new work. This one is a series of short stories – some connected and some referring to earlier novels.

Here is the blurb …

A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband. An elderly lady with Charles Bonnet’s syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly-formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. A woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. And a crime committed long-ago is revenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion year old stromatalite.
In these nine tales, Margaret Atwood ventures into the shadowland earlier explored by fabulists and concoctors of dark yarns such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Daphne du Maurier and Arthur Conan Doyle – and also by herself, in her award-winning novel Alias Grace. In Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood is at the top of her darkly humorous and seriously playful game.

I really enjoyed these stories and being short stories I could read one at a time to extend the pleasure of a new Atwood story. They have everything I like about Atwood’s works – brilliant prose (her choice of words is poetic), interesting characters and quirky plots (I mean a woman is mistaken for a vampire – although maybe she is one?).

More reviews …



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Maddaddam – Margaret Atwood

Maddaddam - Margaret Atwood

Maddaddam – Margaret Atwood

This is the third and final installment of Atwood’s post-apocalyptic series. Once again, I thought Atwood’s writing was spectacular.

Here’s the blurb …

Bringing together Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, this thrilling conclusion to Margaret Atwood’s speculative fiction trilogy points toward the ultimate endurance of community, and love.

Months after the Waterless Flood pandemic has wiped out most of humanity, Toby and Ren have rescued their friend Amanda from the vicious Painballers. They return to the MaddAddamite cob house, newly fortified against man and giant pigoon alike. Accompanying them are the Crakers, the gentle, quasi-human species engineered by the brilliant but deceased Crake. Their reluctant prophet, Snowman-the-Jimmy, is recovering from a debilitating fever, so it’s left to Toby to preach the Craker theology, with Crake as Creator. She must also deal with cultural misunderstandings, terrible coffee, and her jealousy over her lover, Zeb.

Zeb has been searching for Adam One, founder of the God’s Gardeners, the pacifist green religion from which Zeb broke years ago to lead the MaddAddamites in active resistance against the destructive CorpSeCorps. But now, under threat of a Painballer attack, the MaddAddamites must fight back with the aid of their newfound allies, some of whom have four trotters. At the center of MaddAddam is the story of Zeb’s dark and twisted past, which contains a lost brother, a hidden murder, a bear, and a bizarre act of revenge.

Combining adventure, humor, romance, superb storytelling, and an imagination at once dazzlingly inventive and grounded in a recognizable world, MaddAddam is vintage Margaret Atwood—a moving and dramatic conclusion to her internationally celebrated dystopian trilogy.

I love the way Atwood puts words together …

‘…the grey lichen on it, frilly and intricate and see through like whore’s underpants…’

And it is humourous, for example

Delirium had not set in, however; though how would he be sure?

or any of the occasions when Toby has to tell the Crackers a story.

Because if nothing ever died, but everything had more and more babies, the world would get too full and there wouldn’t be any more room.

No, you will not be cooked on a fire when you die.

Because you are not a fish.

No, the bear wasn’t a fish either. And it died in a bear way. Not in a fish way. So it was not cooked on a fire.

Yes, maybe Zeb said Thank You to Oryx too. As well as to the bear.


No, snowflakes have nothing to do with Snowman-the-Jimmy. I don’t know why part of his name is almost the same as snowflake.

I am doing this thing with my hands on my forehead because I have a headache. A headache is when there is a pain in your head.

Thank you. I am sure purring would help. But it would also help if you would stop asking so many questions.

This story has a point (well several points), but it is sugar coated in a great story. Science and big business combine to devastating effect, people are separated into business compounds or the pleebands depending on their wealth and education.

I found the life in the cob house after the plague fascinating – they still managed to band together and create a community (with all of the good and bad things community involves – protection and jealousy). Humans are suprisingly resilient and the Crakers may prove to be more human (and adaptable) after all.


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Surfacing – Margaret Atwood


Atwood is one of my favourite authors. I was amazed I found one of her novels that I hadn’t read. This is one of her earlier works – her second novel first published in 1972.

Plot summary from Wikipedia …

The book tells the story of a woman who returns to her hometown in Canada to find her missing father. Accompanied by her lover and another married couple, the unnamed protagonist meets her past in her childhood house, recalling events and feelings, while trying to find clues for her father’s mysterious disappearance. Little by little, the past overtakes her and drives her into the realm of wildness and madness.

This novel has a wonderful sense of place – I can picture the lake and the cabin. The characters are beautifully portrait, but they are people of a definite era (I can imagine the men with hairy chests and medallions). The sexual revolution has started – both women took the pill and then stopped – women are beginning to be emancipated, but not quite.

The descent into madness is fabulous to read and it all seems quite logical.

I think this is a fabulous novel, but Atwood goes onto greater things with Cat’s Eye, Handmaid’s Tale, Alias Grace and Oryx and Crake. If you’re an Atwood fan, then it’s worth reading to see where she came from, but otherwise I probably wouldn’t bother.

Here are some other (and better) reviews …




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The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood


I’m a keen Margaret Atwood fan so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this week. Being slightly more organised that normal, I re-read Oryx and Crake (although I think The Year of the Flood can be read without having first read Oryx and Crake).

The way Atwood uses language is breath taking – it must be the poet in her. The name of the companies are fabulous, i.e  HelthWyzer and the genetic splices (lion and lamb, raccoon and skunk).

It is much easier to feel sympathy for the characters in this novel. Let’s face it – Snowman and Crake were very unpleasant.

Adam One, the kindly leader of the God’s Gardeners – a religion devoted to the melding of science, religion, and nature – has long predicted a disaster. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women remain: Ren, a young dancer locked away in a high-end sex club, and Toby, a former God’s Gardener, who barricades herself inside a luxurious spa. Have others survived? Ren’s bio-artist friend Amanda? Zeb, her eco-fighter stepfather? Her onetime lover, Jimmy? Or the murderous Painballers? Not to mention the CorpSeCorps, the shadowy policing force of the ruling powers… As Adam One and his beleaguered followers regroup, Ren and Toby emerge into an altered world, where nothing – including the animal life – is predictable.

 Atwood has created a (scarily) realistic world where commerce reigns supreme. I think it is very easy to see how we get from here (where we are now) to there. This novel is a bit more hopeful than Oryx and Crake or perhaps I should say less bleak. The survivors might just be able to stay alive and start a new civilization although I’m a bit worried about the torch bearers at the end.

In all honesty I do have to say that I liked her earlier works better.




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