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This week I went for a different style of book…

Stone Mattress

Book 9 – Stone Mattress, by Margaret Atwood. This is a book of nine short stories; some are related and some are not, but the unifying theme, for me, is personal history.

Much of the book revolves around aging, and what shaped individuals in their youth compared to how they live as they head into old age. From ‘Alphinland‘ and the widow hearing her late husband’s voice even as she reminisces about her first lover, to ‘Stone Mattress‘ and the rape victim whose whole life was twisted as a result of the crime committed against her – and the way she was punished for that crime.

All the Atwood books I have read have a commonality of exploring how far people will go in certain circumstances, and these stories follow that theme. For example, in ‘The Freeze Dried Groom‘ someone chooses to sleep with a woman who probably murdered her husband to be, just for the thrill – he spends his life imagining how he will be found dead one day, and it’s almost wish fulfilment. Then we have the young people in ‘Torching the Dusties‘ who take their anger at intergenerational inequality out on care home residents by setting fire to the home. Alongside that, we have the character who escapes but knowingly lets his friends and fellow residents burn.

This is not what you would call a cheery read, although there is a macabre humour within it, but it was entertaining.

It was refreshing to explore the world through the eyes of a different generation, which happened in most of the stories – we tend to see the elderly in literature as staid and boring but these characters were definitely not that. They reflected on the changes to their looks, their bodies, their sex drives, even the way they literally see the world. Plus, of course, some of them were quite murderous!

I am a fan of Atwood’s work, and I always find more in it the more times I read it, so I am sure I will re-read these stories. For now I would say it wasn’t quite what I expected. However, it was a book I kept picking up when I should have been doing something else, which has to be in its favour!  I  did get engaged with the characters from the connected stories particularly, and would happily read more about them.

I enjoyed these stories, and the book showed me that writers can succeed in multiple genres if they are willing to try them out – we do not have to be tied to one for our entire writing lives. That, for me as a writer, was a positive lesson.

Happy reading,
EJ
🙂

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