The Labrador Fiasco – Margaret Atwood

It always happens when you go away doesn’t it? You get to your point of destination, in this case my mothers, and you just go to have a look through their bookshelves (an almost instant port of call if I am visiting anyone’s house) and you see a few books that you wouldn’t mind reading. The only thing is you have brought an 800 pager all the way from down south and you haven’t enough time in that weekend to read all the books that you feast your eyes upon and so you pick one… the shortest one. Well I couldn’t find much shorter than The Labrador by Margaret Atwood at 64 pages.

‘The Labrador Fiasco’ isn’t, as I thought it might well be, a delightful short story about a dog. Instead Margaret Atwood manages to write two stories in one in a very limited number of words leaving me once again floored by how clever she is, mind you by now I should be expecting it. One tale is that of a son as he comes home to see his father who has recently had a stroke. He joins his parents as his mother sits down to tell his father his favourite tale that of intrepid yet foolhardy explorers in Labrador in Canada. This is the second tale that also happens to be within the first tale.

Because this delightful ‘Bloomsbury Birthday Quid’ (I now want to look up the whole lot of this series) is so short I won’t go into too much detail about what follows but both tales moved me in a short space of time particularly the main father and son tale. There is a lot of emotion yet in very little words, Atwood somehow casts a spell over the pages and simply makes you feel everything this family is going through without spelling it all out for you. She seems to trust her readers will jin the dots and indeed I did.

I honestly don’t know how Atwood can do this in such a subtle way. Some short stories can race through as much as possible and jam pack as many subjects, themes, thoughts and characters in as possible. Not Atwood, though you could say a story of a family and a story of explorers in the story is a lot, this is a minimalistic and simple tale – or pair of tales – that sticks with you long after you have read it. I have done a little research and it seems that ‘The Labrador Fiasco’ has now ended up in Atwood’s collection ‘Moral Disorder’ which fortunately I own and will be turning my attention too sharpish. 7.5/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:
Good Bones – Margaret Atwood (great collection of short Atwood works, I should say Moral Disorder but I haven’t read it yet)
Legend of a Suicide – David Vann (for short stories – in a novel, sort of – about fathers and sons and indeed exploring the wilderness)


Oh before I go two more things, one how wonderful is the french cover (see left)? I also wanted to mention how this book really took me back. When I opened it I was greeted with the date ‘1996’ and some familiar writing which had inscribed ‘Dear Mummy, I saw this and thought you might like it, Simon’ and it brought many memories back. Mum has always been a big Atwood fan, though am not sure she has read ‘The Year of the Flood’ and I remember how I would look at all the Atwood’s that she owned and think ‘who is Margaret Atwood, why would you want to read that many of her books and being slightly mystified by it all. How things change eh? That could be a post for the future I think, the books we remember from the shelves of our youths! I will take this further soon. Has anyone read any of the other Bloomsbury Quids?


Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Margaret Atwood, Review, Short Stories

19 responses to “The Labrador Fiasco – Margaret Atwood

  1. No, not only have I not explored the Quids, I’ve never read Atwood! As much as I love the 800 page romps, there is something to be said for the short stories and novellas. It takes a great talent to make an impact in a few pages.

    • I am a big Atwood fan, I am yet to find one of hers that I haven’t liked, mind you I have only read this and three others. She is an author whose next book is always quite different stylistically and almost with genre which I find quite exciting.

  2. novelinsights

    How sweet to find that old inscription – how things come around! the Quids sound like a great series. This sounds like a really good quick read.

  3. I like the idea of picking up a 64pp book – though I think I’d find it hardly worth sitting down for!

    • Oh come on Verity, is that not a little harsh hehehehe! Its actually worth every word as its one of those books where yes its very short but each word has been thoughtfully decided and the reader can feel it.

  4. The book sounds fascinating. I’ve only read one Atwood but am looking forward to reading more. I am impressed she got so much in to 64 pages!

    • To me its the sign of a great author, I do admire books where you get a sense, though not a forced one, thatn every word has been thought through for the readers benefit and pleasure.

  5. It looks like you are really enjoying the trip home and finding surprises.

    Keep having fun.

  6. DanP

    I have read Moral Disorder and it is not to be missed. All of the stories are connected and lovely. One of my fav recent reads. It hovers somewhere between the lands of novel and short story collection. In Atwood’s hands it is a great limbo to reside in for a few days.

    • Thanks for the feedback on Moral Disorder Dan as I have heard very little about it. It now intrigues me how she would knit this tale into a collection thats all connected, I shall have to find out!

  7. This is the only Quid that I’ve read too; as much as I admire and appreciate Atwood’s writing, I chose this one as much for its packaging as its contents: the perfect pocket-sized read.

  8. I love poaching books off other people’s shelves! (especially when you’re on holiday and have no choice because you read your own book on the plane) Your expectations are low because you don’t necessarily end up with books that you would’ve chosen yourself. I’ve found some real gems this way.

    • You see I didn’t have the excuse of having finished something I just needed a little break from the very addictive book I was in thats so huge you want to race through it and pace yourself all at once. I am hoping some of the other books (see Weds post) will be gems too!

  9. I’m quite intrigued by the idea of the Quids; I love the different nature of writing you get in shorter pieces. And how nice to find the inscription!

    I’m actually reading some short stories by Margaret Atwood at the moment (Bluebeard’s Egg), which are brilliant. I should really pick up more of her short fiction (and novels, too, for that matter). This sounds pretty good! I’ll have to keep an eye out for Moral Disorder, I think.

    • Oooh I have Bluebeard’s Egg on the TBR too, I think (and really hope) that I am going to love all of Margaret Atwood’s collections of short fiction.

      I think of all the other quids I most want to read are Will Self and Nadine Gordimer.

  10. josh

    is there not a shorter, a bit different version of this book written in: Imprints 11 volume 1 by gage? i can’t find any break down of this version anywhere… but is it the same basis and theme and everything or is it quite different then the full version?

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