Murder in the Dark – Margaret Atwood

Despite still being deep in my reading impasse I do fortunately have quite a few book reviews to catch up on! As you know over the last few weeks I have been interspersing my reading with either shorter books or collections. Some collections you can dip into, or on occasion need to dip into now and again, because it’s nice or necessary to break them up for whatever reason. There are also collections like Margaret Atwood’s ‘Murder in the Dark’ that you could read in bits here and there but if you are like me you will end up taking an hour or so out of your day just to read the whole lot.

Rather than being a collection of short stories ‘Murder in the Dark’ is really a collection of very short fictions, of just two or three pages in some cases. Oh apart from part two which is a full on short story in the form of ‘Raw Materials’. Yes, I mentioned part two because the book is 27 pieces split between four parts. The first part seems to be autobiographical snippets, second part is a short story, the third and fourth parts are further random selections of small pieces. I did try and see if each of the last parts had any themes but I couldn’t personally pick any out they were just fantastic shorts. Speaking of which enough of how the collection is put together and onto what it actually contains.

Atwood being Atwood every novel she writes is completely different in prose, genre and motivation and so with a collection like this you get a whole host of varying themes. Those of you who know her for her feminist views will enjoy shorts such as ‘She’, ‘Liking Men’, ‘Simmering’, ‘Iconography’ and ‘Women’s Novels’. The latter of which I think quite a few publishers themselves could learn from. If you like her subtle and sometime wry humour then ‘Fainting’ will probably make you laugh as much as I did.

In fact ‘Fainting’ came from my all together favourite section which was her more autobiographical jottings. I love ‘Autobiography’ which describes a first memory and the humour of memories of a younger (we assume) Atwood in the darkly comic tales of teenage pranks in ‘Horror Comics’ and ‘Making Poison’. Though they are written by Atwood in recent years they seem to show the younger Atwood you know was brimming with ideas that would form her later works.

“Why did we make poison in the first place? I can remember the glee with which we stirred and added the sense of magic and accomplishment. Making poison is as much fun as making a cake. People like to make poison. If you don’t understand this you will never understand anything.”

There is further darkness in the slightly chilling ‘Murder in the Dark’ from which this collection gets its name with a brilliant last paragraph that if I told you would ruin it so I shall not. There were two particular stand out shorts for me though. ‘Bread’ will both move you and almost give you a wake up call which will leave you looking at your loaves quite differently from now on. There is also the remarkable ‘Happy Endings’ which takes us down the many routes a relationship can go and does it with a big slice of emotion.

I should admit I did think from the title that maybe Margaret Atwood had written a fabulous crime thriller that I had not heard off which I would have loved to read. However I am glad I picked it up anyway because again like when I got ‘Good Bones’ from the library I found a delightful array of short fictions I could take a risk on which I don’t know if I would have done, even though its Atwood, in a book shop. Now of course it’s going on a rather long list of books to buy when I can again in 2011. A superb bite size collection of works, it’s a bit like a box of chocolates which you start of with just having one… and then they are all devoured and gone. 8.5/10

And no there’s no ‘a book that will’ or ‘Savidge suggests perfect prose partners’ I couldn’t really sum this collection up in a sentence and bar the aforementioned ‘Good Bones’ I cant think of any other collections of such short fictions. Hmmm, can you recommend any? Have you read this one yet? What other short Atwood pieces (and indeed longer ones) should I try next. I keep saying ‘Cat’s Eye’ will be my next one and then another somehow ends up in my hands first instead.



Filed under Margaret Atwood, Review, Short Stories, Virago Books

7 responses to “Murder in the Dark – Margaret Atwood

  1. I do love the new Virago edition of this and must pick it up at some point. Your description of the structure has me itching to read it! I think I shall pick up Wilderness Tips next (even though, like you, I keep saying Cat’s Eye will be my next).

    Off to dispense (!) wisdom on your reading impasse post.

  2. What a good idea to read short stories to combat your reading impasse. And I love the box of chocolates analogy.

  3. Pingback: The Tent – Margaret Atwood | Savidge Reads

  4. Jenny

    For other ‘short fictions’ try Lydia Davis’ Collected Stories. Some are only one or two sentences in length. And yet they are so full of depth, humour and insight. Enjoy!

  5. I love “Instructions for the third eye”

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