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Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Atwood’

I finally finished my book! which was Bodily Harm, by Margaret Atwood.

I am not sure how to discuss this one. It’s taken longer than expected to read, and the tone changed dramatically in the last 35 pages which took it into an entirely different direction to the one I had expected.

The majority of the story is about Rennie, a journalist whose life has been fundamentally changed by breast cancer.  Trying to escape from her post-surgery life, she seeks an assignment far away from the complications of her newly aware existence.  She leaves behind her old partner, an affair with her oncologist, and an invisible but frightening voyeur/predator/house-breaker who left a rope on her bed after breaking into her flat.

She arrives on the island of St Antoine ready to write a travel piece but before long she is unwittingly and unwillingly caught up in the politics of the island and its neighbour Ste Agathe.

This book is partially a reverie on body confidence and the sense of loving and trusting our bodies, even when faced with challenges.  As Rennie becomes more involved with the mysterious American Paul, she begins to accept her newly scarred body.

However, it is also a tale of corruption, violence and danger, and although there is an underlying menace throughout, this really takes hold of Rennie’s story in the last 50 or so pages, with the outcome being the main focus of the last 35.

I really enjoy ‘human condition’ stories, where the plot is about a character facing a difficulty.  Therefore all these sections worked for me.

However, the other side of the story wasn’t really to my taste. The sense of foreboding was ok but the extremity of the outcome and the last 35 pages was much less enjoyable – although oddly, much quicker to read!

I think in part my reaction to it is about style. Atwood writes in a way that perfectly suits personal reflection. She has a knack for revealing how an individual views their world and how they respond to stimuli. When that gives way to looking at what is happening to a character (rather than how the character is perceiving a situation) it is less powerful.

Add to that the fact that the end feels very rushed in comparison with the rest of the story, and I think these explain why this book is not my favourite Atwood.

I read this for fun but it has made me reflect on a writing truth: as writers, we need to know what type of storytelling works best with our voice. You can stray from the path, of course, but you need to know your way back.

Playing to our strengths is the best way to get our writing noticed.

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

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I didn’t know what to read next, when I was choosing my new book.  I have piles upon piles waiting for me, including some I have borrowed and need to return.  But it’s too hot to think too much, so I finally decided on another Margaret Atwood.  It’s not a dystopian future so that’s a change, at least!

What I wanted was a holiday read: a book I knew I would enjoy reading, that I could read fairly quickly but was a bit more complex than an airport book, if you know what I mean.  This is a pick for the reader me, more than the writer me.

I will let you know how it’s worked when I finish!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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As you will know by now, I am a fan of Margaret Atwood.  I first read her work in school when I studied The Handmaid’s Tale and have been reading and re-reading her work ever since.

When I saw that The Handmaid’s Tale was being televised I knew I had to watch.

It’s brutal, but it’s a reminder how easily we can lose hard-won freedoms.  Giving up a few freedoms here and there in the name of security from terror may seem a small price to pay but the problem is that you don’t know where it stops, and if it ever will.

This weekend, another response to terror was put forward: The Great Get Together.  This was a series of linked community events across the country, with the aim of encouraging friendliness and social cohesion. It was a celebration for Jo Cox, an MP murdered last year.

Focussing on what is good, I made my way to our local event, and it was lovely.  The sun was shining, there was a great spread, lots of people to talk with and it was a very positive way to spend an afternoon.

It was the kind of event I could imagine reading about in a chirpy romance or a 1950’s comedian the style of The Darling Buds of May. It was delightfully countrified!

I am working on a poem for next week’s writing group but I definitely want to revisit yesterday’s mix of nostalgia and reality in some way. Treating it as some sort of stand against oppression will be a challenge, but there’s no point making like too easy for myself.

That’s all for tonight. Have a safe and happy couple of days and I will be back on Tuesday.

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

 

 

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This week I finished Margaret Atwood’s trilogy, with MaddAddam.  I will try to be concise, but I could write about this one for a while!

MaddAddam, like Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, tells the story of how people existed before and after the plague which wipes out most humans.  At its heart are love stories – Toby and Zeb, survivors of the God’s Gardeners; Zeb and his brother Adam, and Toby and Blackbeard, Craker and student.

I really enjoyed reading this book.  It filled in some of the blanks left earlier in the series – such as the reason Zeb was involved with the God’s Gardeners and his relationship with the Adams and Eves, how Crake got the original plague data, what happened to his parents and so on.

More importantly though, it took the story onward.  The disparate group of surviving humans started to develop a new society, with the Crakers as part of it.  People started to hope and plan again.  Toby’s friendship with the curious Craker child Blackbeard showed that however Crake had engineered the humanoids, he couldn’t remove their curiosity and desire to know and understand.

From this friendship, Toby started to believe in a future for humans, and Crakers, that would have been impossible at the start of the series.

I think that is the theme of the book: we can’t foresee the outcome of our actions.  The Crakers were specifically created not to have religious tendencies, for example, but Oryx and Crake were their deities, and the reason for their faith in the world around them.  Zeb chose how to extricate himself from his corrupt father without realising his choice would lead him to bioterrorism and into the path of the world-ending Crake.

Another important concept through the book is that of loyalty.  In a world where people have to be wary of everything, trusting someone is both extremely difficult and essential. That is juxtaposed with the Craker stance of trust by default.

The final thing I will say is that I found the ending of the book, and indeed the series, satisfying.  It wasn’t neatly tied in a bow but the story lived on and that was important to me, having invested in the world Atwood created. I also liked the lack of concrete resolution on the plague itself: we know who, and how, but we can never entirely know why – which is absolutely the way of the world.

I could say so much more but it’ll ruin the reading experience if I go any further!

Tying this back to writing, I am in awe of the complexity and breadth of the world Atwood has created. This is a world she both built up, and then destroyed, and she had to get the details right in both states.

I don’t think this is a standalone book, because even if you could read it alone you wouldn’t get the context.  However, for me, it was a great end to the trilogy.

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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I gave you the background to this novel on Tuesday, but I wanted to spend a bit more time looking at it than I had available then.

As with book 1 of the series, The Year of the Flood sweeps backwards and forwards through time.  There are key differences though: whereas in book 1 we see the world from a point of knowledge about what has occurred, this book shows how people removed from the science and power are able to survive.

The God’s Gardeners religion which was mentioned in book one is a large element of book 2.  It sounds like an eco-cult, with strange saints and a hierarchy where the most senior members are all called Adam or Eve.  There are odd songs and it is made to sound both fantastical and (in light of the world they live in) a compelling kind of fringe society, taking in the waifs and strays left behind by modernity.

It took me a while to get into those elements, especially the songs, because the structure was quite different to book one.

However what worked really well for me was to show the key characters – Toby and Ren – as their situations change over time.  In marked opposition to Oryx and Crake and the pampered lives in the Compounds, Toby and Ren exist in the insecurity and danger of the Pleeblands.  They are at risk, as women, in the world they inhabit, and the risk doesn’t end when the plague comes.

I enjoyed this book, and as part of a series it added intricacy to the world being created.  I wasn’t sure about the God’s Gardeners sermons and saints days but looked at collectively they show how much of the world we know now has been lost to the future, and how mankind has damaged the world in order to keep the Corporations powerful.

I am not sure how well it would stand up on its own but for me that wouldn’t be the best way to approach the middle book of a series anyway!

I will tell you about the final book of the series next time.

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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This is the 3rd book from my break, and the second in Margaret Atwood’s trilogy based on a possible future for humanity, which started with Oryx and Crake.

It covers the same time period as the first but from different points of view. It introduces the God’s Gardeners, an environmentally-focussed religion/cult, and some of their teachings. Some of these Gardeners have survived the plague – an event their leader foretold as the Waterless Flood – and the book tells their stories before and after the plague.

I want to take more time over this story than I have today so I will write part 2 separately, exploring the novel in more detail.

I will be back soon!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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Book two of my not really holiday reading was Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood.  I first read this about eight years ago (and when I realised that I was a bit shocked!) but it’s one of a series so I got all three to read back to back.

The story is about a man called Jimmy, or Snowman, and is set in a future where science has overwhelmed nature: people, plants and animals are genetically modified.  Society is split into people in the Compounds – the areas of Corporations managing the scientific activities for profit – and the pleeblands, where everyone else lives.

When a global pandemic wipes out virtually all humanity, Jimmy has to save not only himself but the Crakers, a group of bioengineered humanoids created by Jimmy’s best friend, and find a way to survive the new world, with its newly released science experiment animals.

I won’t say more than that because I will be giving away too much of the story!

I chose this book because I enjoy reading Atwood’s work, because I knew I wanted to revisit the book, and because I love a dystopian future.  I didn’t read it for writing purposes.

Having said that, it’s always interesting to read Atwood – the concepts in this book are intriguing and disturbing, and I found myself wondering at what point I would think genetic manipulation had gone too far.  At what point do we as a society move from horrified to accepting?

There is also moral consideration about the behaviour of both Jimmy and Crake in relation to each other, to Oryx who is loved by both men, and to humanity as a whole.

It’s a hard future and much like other dystopian novel, there are elements already creeping into reality which make it particularly unnerving in places.

Reading it on a sun lounger wasn’t really the right environment… Still, I found it moving, thought-provoking and engrossing. It stood up well on second reading, although the gap may have helped 🙂

I have read the next book in the trilogy and am onto the third, so more on the future of humanity will follow!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

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