Tag Archives: Margaret Atwood

The Power: Red Clocks is better, but everyone will tell you to read this one, so whatever. It’s fine.

Folks. I’m on a streak. Hahaha. You thought I meant sport. Okay, no you didn’t. It’s a book blog. I’m on a reading streak of great books and it is *so* good and owes to all of your wonderful suggestions, so thank you. Probably also a consequence of having for the first time in my life comfortable patio furniture and so there I am every night sipping red wine, reading a novel, out in the evening air like the spoiled middle class lady that you all know and love. Occasionally I think about higher aspirations and then… I return to reading.

So right, this one. Naomi Alderman’s The Power comes with a heap of comparisons to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (about Margaret Atwood, I will have more to say) in the way of some kind of instant dystopian classic. And I’ll grant you it is the kind of thing I can see appearing on a million reading lists, in part for its sheer simplicity of premise, and how incredibly powerful that premise is in helping rethink the present. Right, so the frame narrative situates the book itself as documenting the ancient human race and the time of the Cataclysm (or maybe the break? or the great change? I can’t remember) when girls began to develop electromagnetic powers that allowed them to – at the most basic level – use electricity to zap/kill people. Some more sophisticated ladies figure out how to use the power for mind control and wicked fun things like that. Once girls figure out they can share the power with women, the novel really takes off with the question: what if women had power? (I did warn you it was simple in premise. And title).

From this straightforward question Alderman takes wide range, unpacking domestic violence, sex work, religion, politics, the military, business and law. All in the shift from patriarchal to matriarchal control. In doing so the reader is offered (what really shouldn’t be, but is) a fresh view of how fucking bananas absurd the state of the world is in this real present for women. Where the novel sets up a state – and narrates the introduction of the laws – where men can’t leave their homes unescorted, can’t travel without a female guardian’s permission, the reader at once recognizes this law as utterly and entirely ridiculous. And then recalls that, of course, these same laws apply to women. Or if not in law, in societies where women are made, without the force of state violence, to feel, to be, controlled. At the same time, it is kind of a boring kind of feminism that just flips the tables and says okay now women are also rapists and murderers and anyone with power will exploit that power because absolute power corrupts etc etc. Or not boring, because it did give me occasional pause, but just not a particularly… revelatory set of ideas.

The shifting perspective of characters affords this wide ranging investigation into the branches of societal change a gendered power reversal might impact. I found the shifting a bit choppy in the earlier parts of the book and somewhat disorienting (and not in a purposeful dystopian sort of way, more in ‘who is that again’ kind of way). That said, once the character lines were more firmly established I appreciated the shifting perspectives and the scope they afforded. I would say that none of the characters on their own felt particularly well developed; rather they were stand-ins for their role in the society (the goddess, the military mom, the gangster capitalist). As a consequence, I found the moments of crisis and threat for these characters less riveting than I might if I was invested in their well-being. One notable exception is the male reporter, Tunde, whose motives shift throughout the novel in compelling ways, and whose introduction to the experience of fear is great.

I suppose where my complaint comes in – and this is hard to avoid, I guess – is that this is a book that wants to be be Big and Important and it reads with that sort of drive. Whereas Red Clocks explored the same themes, it did so subtly (and with better writing). I’m not sure whether that’s a legitimate complaint or not, so you can choose to ignore it or not, but when you do read it (or watch the inevitable movie/TV adaptation) you can recall this warning. You’ll feel on every page the sincerity of wanting you to get that this is a book about Ideas.

Oh right. Margaret Atwood. So Atwood selected Alderman to be her mentee. And Alderman dedicated the book to Margaret and Graeme, so I’m guessing they got on well. I’m a cynic, and I know I should just be happy for Alderman, and happy for Margaret that the partnership was so fruitful, but… a cynical part of me wonders if Atwood is so excited about the book because it will a) further drive up sales  in the Handmaid’s Tale  and b) might distract from the Bad Feminism hoopla of the past years. Or maybe I’m jealous. WHO CAN SAY.

 

 

 

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Filed under Bestseller, Fiction, Orange Prize, Prize Winner

Cat’s Eye: Margaret Atwood, #metoo, feminist-not-feminist-bad-feminist, and… a 1988 novel

Margaret Atwood is (back) in the news. With the adaptation for television of The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) and Alias Grace (1996), readers are returning to these earlier works in droves, with both novels (once again) atop the bestseller lists in Canada and the United States. With the renewed interest in these publications comes the reminder-of-what-we-always-knew (or thought we knew) about Atwood and feminism: she’s never been all that keen to call herself a feminist (see this great explainer from vox). She’s more interested in the women-are-‘human’-and-we-should-all-like-to-be-human approach to feminism. (She and JT probably both liked the recent ‘peoplekind‘ flap). Continue reading

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Filed under Canadian Literature, Fiction

The Heart Goes Last: Your Contract to Read All Atwood Has Been Voided. Thank God.

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As a student of Can Lit I am always going to get the new Margaret Atwood novel. It was in the contract I signed when I chose my field. Or did I not read the fine print? Or bother to inquire? If I had I might not have so readily signed on because at a certain point (as in The Heart Goes Last) reading the new Atwood is an obligation and chore, rather than pleasure and delight.

I jest about contract signing because this novel-that-ought-to-have-been-a-short-story-but-who-is-going-to-tell-that-to-Atwood focuses on the ways people ‘freely’ choose their subjugation and constraint. Yawn hegemony. Made more complex, perhaps, by the setting of a post-depression era North America where 50% unemployment means the collapse of society as we know it. You could read other reviews that will praise the way this question of choice is taken up in relation to technology. You won’t read that here because I read this as – at best – an obvious consideration of the reach of technology in regulating individual life and desire. You don’t have to look far – *cough* The Circle – for similar, if far better executed, allegories and literary prophesies.

*spoiler alert* Though it’s not much of a spoiler as so much of this plot is either predictable or uninspired: Stan and Charmaine, out of work, sign on to live in Consilience, a town that provides employment and safety. The trade off is the town is selling body parts and making people into sex slaves. The bit about working for a month in a prison and a month in the town is neither necessary to know nor interesting in the plot, it seems to be there just for shock value.

Had this been an interesting novel (or a compressed and worthy short story) I might have been taken with the ideas explored around individual choice. The tone of the novel blames Stan and Charmaine for their choice to sign on to Consilience, as if they ought to have read the fine print or been brave enough to choose ‘freedom over security’ (that familiar binary). One of the unitarian principles I appreciate is the idea that individuals have choice, but choice within constraints. That what we can do for a more just society is to create conditions under which individuals have the maximum range of choice and are equipped and supported in choosing. (This push to create ‘choice conditions’ is part of the reason the church has such an aggressive (if you can call unitarians aggressive about anything) social justice mandate as part of their non-doctrine-doctrine.) So sure, you can make an argument that the two ought to have chosen violence over the promises of the town, they ought to have known such a thing was (in every way the adage) too good to be true. But you could also make an argument they – like we – made a choice inasmuch as they could choose anything within their constraints. It bears repeating, however, that the novel doesn’t do much – at all – to further this line of questioning or explore this nuance. It simply blames them – and us – for being dupes and moves on.

So don’t be a dupe. Give this one a pass. You can choose how to spend your reading time, even if I can’t.

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Filed under Bestseller, Canadian Literature, Fiction, Worst Books