Thursday, September 24, 2009

Author Appreciation: The Books of Margaret Atwood- or, at least, Those I've Read

Margaret Atwood is absolutely and by far and away one of my favorite authors. I first read her in 2003, when I chose The Handmaid's Tale as my Banned-Book-Week pick. I haven't been able to get enough since. Over the past five years or so I've worked my way through most (though not all) of her novel-length fiction and of course I'm so excited for her new book and I hope everyone reads it.

So the other day I promised a little recap of the books of hers that I've read. Where I've blogged a full review I'll include the link.

The Handmaid's Tale was my first foray into Atwood's work and still the most emotionally riveting. Don't make the mistake I made and read it the month before you're getting married! Trauma! I loved this book but it definitely shook me up.

Alias Grace is without question my favorite of her books. It's historical fiction centering on a true-crime story about a young Irishwoman named Grace Marks, a maid who was convicted of the murders of her employer and his mistress. Grace is one of the most fascinating literary creations I've come across, and the book is filled with the themes and motifs that you'll see over and over in Atwood- women, sex, and power- but executed in a wholly unique way.

The Blind Assassin was the second Atwood novel I read, several months after finishing The Handmaid's Tale- when the shock had worn off. A Booker Prize winner, it's a combines a truly creepy family story with metafictional and science fiction elements in a brilliant, compelling work.

The Robber Bride is another brilliant entry, this time focusing on a group of friends whose lives and loves have been impacted by another friend, the enigmatic Zenia, whose funeral opens the book. But is she really dead? And is (was?) she, anyway? Atwood creates three vivid, different women and a fourth whose story is told through their eyes- though she never speaks for herself. I think there's a lot more going on in this one than meets the eye.

Lady Oracle is an earlier book, and one that I enjoyed immensely. It's about a housewife who becomes an unlikely literary star, then fakes her own death. It's not a particularly heavy book but I found it very, very satisfying and enjoyable.

Life Before Man, another early Atwood, is about a love triangle between two women and the husband of one. A worthwhile read.

The Penelopiad came out a couple of years ago as part of a series of rewrites of mythology by modern writers. It's the story of The Odyssey from Penelope's point of view. It's not my favorite but Atwood completists will want to read it.

Cat's Eye is probably one of my least favorite of her books. It's a coming of age story about an artist and her troubled relationships, particularly with her best friend. I liked the way Atwood depicts the pains of childhood- it seemed very real to me- but in a lot of ways it strikes me as a rough draft of The Blind Assassin, where a lot of the themes and situations are repeated. It's on the light side so it will appeal to some readers more than others. I will say though, that certain things about it have stayed with me.

I've also read her novels Surfacing and Bodily Harm; I wasn't crazy about either one and can't remember much more about them than that.

Recently I picked up The Edible Woman and I hope to get to that soon; Moral Disorder and Other Stories is out there for me at some point, and then maybe I'll dive into her short fiction and poetry as well. You can click to see my recent reviews of The Year of the Flood and Oryx and Crake .

If you've never read her, or read one or two of her books, I hope that you find something to try!

21 comments:

Care said...

ha! maybe it was a good thing I was married 20 years already when I read The Handmaid's Tale? This book blew me away! and I've been on an MA kick since - but this was only last year so I am proud that I've read The Blind Assassin (I liked it immensely) and have Alias Grace in the house but not sure when I'll get to it. I think Lady Oracle looks like one I would enjoy. Great post.

Melissa said...

The Handmaid's Tale was my first Atwood, too - but I read it in 9th grade (we had a sub for a week in Humanities who didn't do much more than sleep so I found I had some reading time...) and it blew my socks off.

Alias Grace is probably my favorite. My mother had to threaten to confiscate it so I would be sociable while visiting my grandparents one Christmas. :D

Nymeth said...

She really is brilliant. Alias Grace is my favourite so far, and I think I'll read The Robber Bride next.

Paperback Reader said...

Like you I started with The Handmaid's Tale in 2004 and loving that have since read most -but not all- of the ones you listed. From your mini review I think I've now decided to read Lady Oracle; it had been on my summer reading list but that was waylaid by challenges. I've recently been lamenting the need for more Atwood in my life and that sounds like a great one to indulge in.

Paperback Reader said...

I also intended to say that Alias Grace is definitely my favourite so far too.

pinkflipflops said...

Thanks for your overview of these Atwood. I've read The Handmaid's Tale and LOVED IT. I read Cat's Eye for a Lit class in college and it to me was not so good. I've also read her Dancing Girls collection of short stories and liked a bunch of them. I started reading Alias Grace but had to return it to the library, but wouldn't mind finishing it. I tried reading The Blind Assasin and couldn't get into it, but I want to give Lady Oracle, Edible Woman, and Bodily Harm a shot. I think it would help if I was reading it and talking it over with people at the same time. That is the ONLY way I got through Cat's Eye!

Zibilee said...

I am sadly under-read in the Atwood department. I liked the little sneak peak you gave into each of these books, and think that I might try a few. I do have Cats Eye on my shelf as well as Oryx and Crake, but I am thinking that I might like to start with Alias Grace. Great mini reviews, thanks!

Booklogged said...

I've read lots about Margaret Atwood's books and even bought a few but I haven't read any yet. Better get with it, huh?

Jessica said...

I loved your comments because I've been wanting to read Oryx and Crake and then follow with the new one The Year of the Flood.
The only book of hers I've read is The Robber Bride not sure if it was a good first read of hers or not and how it reflects on Atwoods other books but I do want to read a couple more of her books at least eventually.

jewwishes said...

I really like Margaret Atwood's books. My favorite is The Handmaid's Tale.

I haven't bought her new release, yet.

caite said...

Well, I already have, unread, Oryx and Crake that I will read now that I have finished, and very much liked, The Year of the Flood. It seems I will have to try Alias Grace next, since there are several strong recommendations here.

Charley said...

I may have asked this before, but have you read her short story Hairball? Apparently it's included in her book of stories called Wilderness Tips. That one story is the only thing I've read of hers, and I remember being really into it at the time.

Diane said...

I've just started collecting Atwwod books. I have about (3) titles right now, and have read (2) which I donated. I'm not into novellas or short stories so those I'll avoid.

Thanks for sharing your opinion on the ones you enjoyed. Very helpful.

Rubys Upcycle Designs said...

It's too funny that I ran across this post today as my daughter just had me run down to our independent book store to grab a copy of The Handmaid's Tale. The clerk at the desk immediately recognized the title, she said it was one of the best books she has ever read (although she said she wasn't sure that she fully understood it). I look forward to reading it as soon as my daughter finishes it. Thanks for the reviews...I'm always looking for great authors.

JoAnn said...

Great post, Marie! The Handmaid's Tale was my first Atwood (can it be over 20 years ago??) and it's a book I keep meaning to revisit. Also loved Alias Grace, The Robber Bride and Cat's Eye. The Blind Assassin will be next.

Literature Crazy said...

I can't put my finger on why I've never read any Atwood. It's so frustrating because every time I read a post like this (or really anything about her work), I think, "I really need to read her stuff," but I never make time.

Thanks for the reminder about her great novels!

Memory said...

I've really got to read some more Atwood. I read THE HANDMAID'S TALE nearly ten years ago, and I certainly didn't end to wait this long before I gave her another go.

Alexia561 said...

I love Margaret Atwood! The Handmaid's Tale is one of my favorites! Thanks for the recap, as I somehow missed Alias Grace.

Wendy said...

I'm right with you...LOVE Atwood. She is probably the most brilliant (living) author out there, in my opinion. You've read more of her books than I have...but I'm working my way through them (and I have her latest here ready to read!). My favorites so far would be The Handmaid's Tale and The Robber Bride...but really, I have loved them all. Thanks for the recap!

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I have The Blind Assassin sitting on the "books I really want to read soon!" shelf next to my computer. The Handmaid's Tale was my first Atwood -- I can't remember why I read it -- but it was so good and creepy! I'm not always a fan of dystopian books, but this one struck so many themes that are already happening it's hard not to connect with it.

Amanda said...

I've definitely become an Atwood fan myself. Before my blog I had never read any of her works and now I'm addicted.