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Atwood, Margaret

story élite short novel

(Canadian, 1939– )

Margaret Atwood is Canada's most internationally celebrated contemporary novelist and poet. She has twice won the Governor General's award for poetry and her novels have been shortlisted several times for the Booker Prize. She is one of the sharpest political thinkers in fiction, and her books are both compulsively readable and elegantly written. In The Handmaid's Tale (1985) Atwood describes a society of the future which is dominated by fundamentalist religion and a male élite. Fertility has plummeted, and women are Handmaids, Marthas, Aunts, or wives to the élite. The book describes the attempts of one Handmaid, Offred, to construct an alternative history that undermines both the censorship and linguistic control of the élite. Surfacing (1972) was a landmark novel for the feminist movement and a Canadian classic, describing a journey into the wilderness that transforms the female narrator into a visionary. Life before Man (1979) tells the story of a sexual affair from the utterly convincing points of view of all three protagonists, and is both humorous and very sad. Cat's Eye (1988) is a vivid exploration of bullying, through the character of a woman painter who is overwhelmed by memories of childhood cruelties and betrayals. Atwood is as unsparing of children here, as Golding is in Lord of the Flies. In Alias Grace (1996), Atwood takes the true story of Grace Marks who was sentenced to death for the murder of her employers, and uses it to explore the complex relationship between guilt and power. After three short-listed books, she finally won the Booker Prize in 2000 with The Blind Assassin, which brilliantly interweaves the life story of the elderly Iris Chase with passages from her late sister's novel ‘The Blind Assassin’, a pulp sci-fi romance which since her death has become a proto-feminist cult classic. Atwood also writes short stories; the collection Wilderness Tips (1991) is highly recommended.

In Oryx and Crake (2003) Atwood again looks to the future: this time a world rendered unrecognizable by genetic modification.

Doris Lessing, Margaret Forster, Virginia Woolf, Nadine Gordimer.

See CANADA, SCIENCE FICTION, SEXUAL POLITICS, SHORT STORIES  LM/JR

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