Sometimes you need to turn to a favourite author don’t you? One author who I always feel I can turn to is Margaret Atwood. I actually think that a love for Margaret Atwood is something that lives and breathes in my DNA; my Gran loves her, my mother loves her and if you read this blog regularly you will know that I love her too. I wasn’t in the mood for one of her tomes, though I did consider reading ‘Alias Grace’ or giving ‘The Robber Bride’ a second chance (why didn’t I love that book?) and so I thought, having had success with ‘Murder in the Dark’ and ‘Good Bones’, I would give another of her fictional essay collections, ‘The Tent’ a whirl.
Collections such as ‘The Tent’ are always really difficult to review as they are a delightful hotchpotch of snippets of an author’s work that aren’t quite long enough to be a short story collection. In fact this collection is brimming with a whopping thirty-five mini works. Mind you what could be better than almost forty pieces of Margaret Atwood’s brainstorming and idea’s? Nothing frankly, if we are being honest! If you haven’t read any Atwood then this is actually a rather wonderful collection of hers to start with as you really do get a flavour of what a versatile author she is.
One such short I must highlight straight away is ‘Three Novels I Won’t Write Soon’. Here Atwood takes a couple and greats a basic story and then turns it on its head, with varying twists, styles and genres and giving them different names like ‘Worm Zero’, ‘Spongedeath’ and ‘Beetleplunge’. It’s fascinating example of how an author might randomly have a stab at a novel and then make errors and changes as they go, whilst also just being a very entertaining read.
‘The Tent’ is set into three parts and I could try and feign some academic understanding of why the tales are in the parts they are, and indeed the order they are. Instead, actually, I just enjoyed them. ‘Orphan Stories’ made me laugh as I too have often wondered why on earth most stories have an orphan at their heart, its wry and dark but also a little moving and to do that in five pages is very clever. ‘Voice’ is a very clever analogy of why we were given a voice and the good and bad we can do with it. There’s almost a fable element to it.
My very favourite of the stories all had rather magical and fairytale like elements to them. ‘Chicken Little Goes Too Far’ is a hilarious modern take on the old fable, I am imagining that this might just be the sort of stories she writes in ‘Bluebeard’s Egg’ which I really must read. It’s the original mini tales that I loved the most of all. ‘It’s Not Easy Being Half Divine’ and ‘Salome Was A Dancer’ both are very modern tales yet they read in that way you loved as a child at bedtime. I think ‘Winter’s Tales’ is one of the funniest modern fairytales I have read, how could you not love a story that starts with…
‘Once upon a time, you say, there were germs with horns. They lived in the toilet and could only be defeated by gallons and gallons of bleach. You could commit suicide by drinking this bleach, and some women did.’
You weren’t expecting that were you? Some of these fictional essays are also rather political. Atwood is becoming better and better known for her worldy wise views and there are elements of this side of her nature in ‘Warlords’, ‘Resources of the Ikranians’ and title story ‘The Tent’. They never preach, there is just a steering of direction and undertone, but not enough to alienate should you not agree with them, and of course I do. If that wasn’t enough there are also poems in the forms of ‘The Animals Reject Their Names and Things Return to Their Origins’ and ‘Bring Back Mom: An Invocation’ plus some of Atwood’s own illustrations too.
‘The Tent’ was just the sort of read you need from a voice, or narrator, that you know well. It also reminded me that whilst I love almost everything that Margaret Atwood writes I don’t always understand it. I can come away a little confused and yet having enjoyed the experience. Oddly that said I would urge people who haven’t tried Atwood before to give this a whirl, it is a really good way of experiencing all the types of ways she writes.