An epic of biblical proportions, The Year of the Flood is a feast of imagination and a journey to the end of the world. Adam One is the leader of the God's Gardeners, a religious group devoted to living under the command of the natural world. They wear beige cloth-sacks, cultivate mushrooms, harvest honey and curse each other by shouting: Pig-Eater! Their community is only tolerated by the CorpSeCorps, the ruling power, because they are not perceived as threatening. But, this is a world where gene-splicing is the norm; where lions and lambs have become Liobams and pigs have human DNA. The times, and species, are changing at a rapid rate, and with loyalites as thin as environmental stability, the future is a dangerous place. And, if the Waterless Flood does indeed arrive, as predicted by the Gardeners, will there even be a future to contemplate? Ren is a trapeze dancer at Scales and Tails, and can work a plank just as well. After a rip in her biofilm she is placed in solitary confinement until they can guarantee she is without disease. Her story is one part of our gateway into this uniquely constructed world. The other is Toby, an ex-counter-girl at SecretBurger ('Because we all love a Secret'), a natural cynic and source of extensive homeopathic knowledge; she knows her aminatas from her puffballs. Their stories weave beneath the holy teachings and saintly-songs of Adam One to create a truly apocalyptic vision, a world that harnesses Atwood's wit, dystopic imagination and sharp insight. The result is a collective blast of a novel and one that will remain with you until the Waterless Flood comes.
Reviewed by Kathleen A. Cameron, Justice Studies, Social Sciences Department, Pittsburg State University. Email: kcameron [at] pittstate.edu.
Imagine a society where a sign in red paint reads, “We warn against not wearing a headscarf and wearing makeup. Those who do not abide by this will be punished. God is our witness, we have notified you.” Imagine a society where women are tortured and killed for disobeying this law – a society where religious beliefs, the political structure, and female sexual identity are so intertwined as to justify and require the control of women’s freedom, the sexual victimization of women, and the torture and murder of women who do not comply. Imagine a society where a woman is accused by religious police of being a witch and is sentenced to death by beheading.
Margaret Atwood imagines this society in her futuristic, dystopian novel, THE HANDMAID’S TALE. While the excerpt above is a non-fictional description of present-day Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Atwood’s vision of a fictional theocratic regime that reduces the value of women to reproductive commodities is a disturbingly accurate account of the status of women in the Middle East and other parts of the world, and is in many ways reflected in political, legal, and cultural doctrines, ideologies, and practices in the U.S.
Numerous reviews of this most profound and telling work by Atwood have been written since its publication in 1986. Written in a similar vein to Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD (1932), Orwell’s 1984 (1949), and Burgess’ A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1962), but with the mysogynistic focus of Piercy’s WOMAN ON THE EDGE OF TIME (1976), it is one of the two most popular Atwood works for use in university classrooms (along with Atwood’s SURFACING (1972)). Rich with symbolism and textured with irony, it relies on a feminist methodology of the narrative, the primary way individuals make sense of experience. As such, it provides an ideal source for generating dialogue, teaching, and learning in courses that have typically included courses in the humanities and social sciences. This review illustrates the use of this work in a course on Women, Crime and Justice, and includes a student paper excerpt in the brief summary of THE HANDMAID’S TALE that follows. The student contributor to the summary below writes, “I am finding The Handmaid’s Tale to be a heart-breaking, yet inspiring novel… I could not stop reading.” Adaptations include a film, an opera, and an unabridged audio book.
The story is set in the futuristic United States of America in the fictional town of Gilead, a puritanical society in which dress codes are used as a way to subjugate women. The tale opens with the narrator, Offred (Of-Fred) remembering a time when she was held against her will in an old gymnasium, [*299] known as the Red Center. Women here are trained to become Handmaids, surrogate mothers for powerful military families, who are ordered to wear red dresses with white veils to signify their importance to the cause (having the Commanders’ children). Gilead is a theocracy run by Christian extremists in which women are not allowed to hold jobs, read, or use money. The chief function of women is to bear children since the decline in the birth rate. Women of lower status, the “econowives” wear striped dresses to signify that their husbands are not yet Commanders.
Throughout the novel, Offred narrates from remembering past times to the present. She is a Handmaid who lives in a Commander’s house but she remembers a time when she was married to a man named Luke and they had a child together. Offred has no idea what happened to either her child or Luke, but she recalls that her child was taken from her because she was deemed “unfit.” In the new world of Gilead (once the United States), the Constitution has been suspended and a Christian theocracy has replaced a democratic government. To address the declining birth rate caused by pollution and chemical poisoning, the government has created Handmaids who are placed in the households of Commanders whose wives can no longer bear children. Handmaids are under constant surveillance, subject to strict rules and regulations, and suffer extreme punishment or death if they defy the Gileadean regime.
While words such as “engaging,” “well-structured,” and “suspenseful” have been used to describe the work, THE HANDMAID’S TALE offers a myriad of themes for pedagogy much more profound than its value as a compelling read and its use in discussions of literature and creative writing. More specifically, the work lends itself to an examination of the politics of female sexuality as inextricably linked to female criminality. As the tale unravels, the boundaries between Atwood’s fictional characters of Gilead and the historical oppression and subjugation of women in the U.S. and the world become increasingly blurred. Students are given the opportunity to uncover ways in which political ideologies have given rise to structures of power that connect the personal to the political. The practices and beliefs in the fictional Republic of Gilead can be used to expose the roots of a non-fictional political campaign to control women that can be seen as early as the 15th century in Europe, when control of women’s reproductive issues and control over women’s bodies fueled a theocratic movement against women as the Roman Catholic church defined their healing practices as the crime of “witchcraft” and led to beliefs that female sexuality was the downfall of man.
This theme of woman as the “sexual temptress” is brought to light once again in the current political regime in Saudi Arabia. In today’s news, where a Saudi woman has been sentenced to death for the crime of witchcraft, the color red has been banned as testament that, in the words of one Atwood reviewer, “dehumanization of women is not just a custom but actually the law.” In THE HANDMAID’S TALE, we see the symbolism of the color red. As one student explains, “Red is a scandalous, racy color, defining the Handmaids as such. Everything associated with the [*300] Handmaids is red.” The novel’s protagonist, Offred, states, “Everything except the wings around my face is red: the color of blood, which defines us.” (Atwood, p. 8) Atwood uses the symbology of color to represent social status (Commanders dress in black and drive black cars) for characters as well as the political structure of the society (“ Red Center ”).
The seamless blend of political power, ideological structures, and criminal justice practices is artistically woven into the tapestry of Atwood’s social commentary on the oppression of women. Throughout the novel’s fabric, we find threads of the objectification of women in the control of female sexuality; the value of women defined by reproduction; the victim/criminal continuum and the politics of female victimization and female criminality; the female criminality link to structural dislocation; and the feminist methodology of personal voice, experience, and the power of the narrative.
Any crime can result in an execution and a public hanging on “The Wall,” but just being female is suspect enough. Atwood resists painting a picture of Offred as a victim; on the contrary, Offred is intelligent, courageous, and defiant in the face of her life under siege. Ironically, when it is more common for survivors of sexual crimes and political torture to remain silent, it is Offred’s narrative that empowers the reader to champion her eventual uprising against the family and government that hold her captive. While rape survivors and other women who are victims of crimes of power often find it difficult to talk about their experiences and resist naming them, it is precisely her narrative and the naming of her world that carries Offred to rise above the Giladean regime. The political identity that has been inflicted upon her is ultimately unable to destroy her personal identity and she emerges as a heroine rather than a Handmaid.
As a pedagogical palette, THE HANDMAID’S TALE is rich in possibilities for analyzing the intersection between crimes against women, crimes by women, and the politics of female sexuality. In this tenth anniversary year of “The Vagina Monologues” and the V-Day movement to end violence against women, we read news accounts daily such as those described in the opening statements of this review -- Iraqi women being tortured and killed for contradicting the requirements of Islam demanding that women cover their heads and Saudi women being executed by political regimes in the name of religion. As a feminist pedagogy and methodology, the power of giving voice to women and naming personal experience is the power of THE HANDMAID’S TALE.
When Felix is deposed as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival by his devious assistant and longtime enemy, his production of The Tempest is canceled and he is heartbroken. Reduced to a life of exile in rural southern Ontario — accompanied only by his fantasy daughter, Miranda, who died twelve years ago — Felix devises a plan for retribution.
Eventually he takes a job teaching Literacy Through Theatre to the prisoners at the nearby Burgess Correctional Institution, and is making a modest success of it when an auspicious star places his enemies within his reach. With the help of their own interpretations, digital effects, and the talents of a professional actress and choreographer, the Burgess Correctional Players prepare to video their Tempest. Not surprisingly, they view Caliban as the character with whom they have the most in common. However, Felix has another twist in mind, and his enemies are about to find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest that will change their lives forever. But how will Felix deal with his invisible Miranda’s decision to take a part in the play?
A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband. An elderly lady with Charles Bonnet’s syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly-formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. A woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. And a crime committed long-ago is revenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion year old stromatalite.
In these nine tales, Margaret Atwood ventures into the shadowland earlier explored by fabulists and concoctors of dark yarns such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Daphne du Maurier and Arthur Conan Doyle — and also by herself, in her award-winning novel Alias Grace. In Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood is at the top of her darkly humorous and seriously playful game.
A man-made plague has swept the earth, but a small group survives, along with the green-eyed Crakers — a gentle species bio-engineered to replace humans. Toby, onetime member of the Gods Gardeners and expert in mushrooms and bees, is still in love with street-smart Zeb, who has an interesting past. The Crakers’ reluctant prophet, Snowman-the-Jimmy, is hallucinating; Amanda is in shock from a Painballer attack; and Ivory Bill yearns for the provocative Swift Fox, who is flirting with Zeb. Meanwhile, giant Pigoons and malevolent Painballers threaten to attack.
Told with wit, dizzying imagination, and dark humour, Booker Prize-winning Margaret Atwood’s unpredictable, chilling and hilarious MaddAddam takes us further into a challenging dystopian world and holds up a skewed mirror to our own possible future.
Long ago, when they were all a lot younger, Zenia stole a man from each of them. Then she died. Now she’s come back. Or has she? There’s a lot more than one kind of ghost.
Margaret Atwood revisits her classic characters from . This story first appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of magazine.
One of the world’s most celebrated authors, Margaret Atwood has penned a collection of smart and entertaining fictional essays, in the genre of her popular books and , punctuated with wonderful illustrations by the author. Chilling and witty, prescient and personal, delectable and tart, these highly imaginative, vintage Atwoodian mini-fictions speak on a broad range of subjects, reflecting the times we live in with deadly accuracy and knife-edge precision.
In pieces ranging in length from a mere paragraph to several pages, Atwood gives a sly pep talk to the ambitious young; writes about the disconcerting experience of looking at old photos of ourselves; gives us Horatio's real views on Hamlet; and examines the boons and banes of orphanhood. “Bring Back Mom: An Invocation” explores what life was really like for the “perfect” homemakers of days gone by, and in “The Animals Reject Their Names,” she runs history backward, with surprising results.
Chilling and witty, prescient and personal, delectable and tart, is vintage Atwood. Enhanced by the author’s delightful drawings, it is perfect for Valentine’s Day, and any other occasion that demands a special, out-of-the-ordinary gift.
Ever since her engagement, the strangest thing has been happening to Marian McAlpin: she can't eat. First meat. Then eggs, vegetables, cake, pumpkin seeds-everything! Worse yet, she has the crazy feeling that she's being eaten. Marian ought to feel consumed with passion. But really she just feels…consumed. A brilliant and powerful work rich in irony and metaphor, The Edible Woman is an unforgettable materpiece by a true master of contemporary literary fiction.
This splendid volume of short fiction testifies to Margaret Atwood’s startlingly original voice, full of a rare intensity and exceptional intelligence. Each of the fourteen stories shimmers with feelings, each illuminates the interior landscape of a woman’s mind. Here men and women still miscommunicate, still remain separate in different rooms, different houses, or even different worlds. With brilliant flashes of fantasy, humor, and unexpected violence, the stories reveal the complexities of human relationships and bring to life characters who touch us deeply, evoking terror and laughter, compassion and recognition—and dramatically demonstrate why Margaret Atwood is one on the most important writers in English today.
As the story opens, the narrator, who calls himself Snowman, is sleeping in a tree, wearing a dirty old bedsheet, mourning the loss of his beautiful and beloved Oryx and his best friend Crake, and slowly starving to death. In a world in which science-based corporations have recently taken mankind on an uncontrolled genetic-engineering ride, he now searches for supplies in a wasteland. Insects proliferate and pigoons and wolvogs ravage the Pleeblands, where ordinary people once lived, and the Compounds that sheltered the extraordinary. As he tries to piece together what has taken place, the narrative shifts to decades earlier. How did everything fall apart so quickly? Why is Snowman left with nothing but his bizarre memories—alone except for the more-than-perfect, green-eyed Children of Crake, who think of him as a kind of monster? He explores the answers to these questions in the double journey he takes—into his own past and back to Crake’s high-tech bubble dome, where the Paradice Project unfolded and the world came to grief.
Genre: Mystery and thrillers
Part detective novel, part psychological thriller, Surfacing is the story of a talented woman artist who goes in search of her missing father on a remote island in northern Quebec. Setting out with her lover and another young couple, she soon finds herself captivated by the isolated setting, where a marriage begins to fall apart, violence and death lurk just beneath the surface, and sex becomes a catalyst for conflict and dangerous choices. Surfacing is a work permeated with an aura of suspense, complex with layered meanings, and written in brilliant, diamond-sharp prose. Here is a rich mine of ideas from an extraordinary writer about contemporary life and nature, families and marriage, and about women fragmented…and becoming whole.
WINNER OF THE 2000 BOOKER PRIZE
Even Zenia’s name is enough to provoke the old sense of outrage, of humiliation and confused pain. The truth is that at certain times—early mornings, the middle of the night—she finds it hard to believe that Zenia is really dead.’ Zenia is beautiful, smart and greedy; by turns manipulative and vulnerable, needy and ruthless; a man’s dream and a woman’s nightmare. She is also dead. Just to make absolutely sure Tony, Roz and Charis are there for the funeral. But five years on, as the three women share a sisterly lunch, the impossible happens: ‘with waves of ill will flowing out of her like cosmic radiation’, Zenia is back ...
This is the wise, unsettling, drastic story of three women whose lives share a common wound: Zenia, a woman they first met as university students in the sixties. Zenia is smart and beautiful, by turns manipulative, vulnerable—and irresistible. She has entered into their separate lives to ensnare their sympathy, betray their trust, and exploit their weaknesses. Now Zenia, thought dead, has suddenly reappeared. In this richly layered narrative, Atwood skilfully evokes the decades of the past as she retraces three women’s lives, until we are back in the present—where it’s yet to be discovered whether Zenia’s ‘pure, free-wheeling malevolence’ can still wreak havoc. reports from the farthest reaches of the sex wars and is one of Margaret Atwood’s most intricate and subversive novels yet.
Exploring the paradox of female villainy, this tale of three fascinating women is another peerless display of literary virtuosity by the supremely gifted author of and . Roz, Charis and Tony all share a wound, and her name is Zenia. Beautiful, smart and hungry, by turns manipulative and vulnerable, needy and ruthless, Zenia is the turbulent center of her own neverending saga. She entered their lives in the sixties, when they were in college. Over the three decades since, she has damaged each of them badly, ensnaring their sympathy, betraying their trust, and treating their men as loot. Then Zenia dies, or at any rate the three women—with much relief -- attend her funeral. But as begins, Roz, Charis and Tony have come together at a trendy restaraunt for their monthly lunch when in walks the seemingly resurrected Zenia...
In this consistently entertaining and profound new novel, Margaret Atwood reports from the farthest reaches of the war between the sexes with her characteristic well-crafted prose, rich and devious humor, and compassion.
In Homer’s account in , Penelope—wife of Odysseus and cousin of the beautiful Helen of Troy—is portrayed as the quintessential faithful wife, her story a salutary lesson through the ages. Left alone for twenty years when Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan war after the abduction of Helen, Penelope manages, in the face of scandalous rumours, to maintain the kingdom of Ithaca, bring up her wayward son, and keep over a hundred suitors at bay, simultaneously. When Odysseus finally comes home after enduring hardships, overcoming monsters and sleeping with goddesses, he kills her suitors and—curiously—twelve of her maids.
In a splendid contemporary twist to the ancient story, Margaret Atwood has chosen to give the telling of it to Penelope and to her twelve hanged Maids, asking: ‘What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?’ In Atwood’s dazzling, playful retelling, the story becomes as wise and compassionate as it is haunting, and as wildly entertaining as it is disturbing
With wit and verve, drawing on the storytelling and poetic talent for which she herself is renowned, she gives Penelope new life and reality—and sets out to provide an answer to an ancient mystery.
The Blind Assassin opens with these simple, resonant words: "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge." They are spoken by Iris, whose terse account of her sister's death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But just as the reader expects to settle into Laura?s story, Atwood introduces a novel-within-a-novel. Entitled The Blind Assassin, it is a science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in dingy backstreet rooms. When we return to Iris, it is through a 1947 newspaper article announcing the discovery of a sailboat carrying the dead body of her husband, a distinguished industrialist. Brilliantly weaving together such seemingly disparate elements, Atwood creates a world of astonishing vision and unforgettable impact.