Category Archives: Margaret Atwood

Win Not One, But Two, Signed Copies of Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress

My second give away of the day is doubly delightful. You can win not one but two signed copies of Margaret Atwood’s ‘nine wicked tales’ that make up Stone Mattress thanks to the lovely people at Virago and Little Brown. So that is one for you and a friend or family member. (Good Christmas present alert!) If you have yet to read any Atwood (are you mad?) then this would be an ideal introduction, if you are a fan of Atwood then this will just be a treat. Here is a teaser from the tale Dark Lady which is so my cup of tea…

Every morning at breakfast Jorrie reads the obituaries in all three of the papers. Some of the write-ups make her laugh, but to the best of Tin’s knowledge none of them has ever made her cry. She’s not much of a sniveller, Jorrie.
    She marks the noteworthy dead people with an X – two Xs if she plans to attend the funeral or the memorial service – and hands the papers across the table to Tin. She gets the real paper papers, delivered right to their townhouse doorstep, because according to her they skimp on the obituaries in the digital versions.
    “Here’s another,” she’ll say. “‘Deeply missed by all who knew her,’ I think not! I worked with her on the Splendida campaign. She was a sick bitch.” Or else: “‘Peacefully, at home, of natural causes.’ I doubt that very much! I bet it was an overdose.” Or: “Finally! Creepy Fingers! He groped me at a company dinner in the ’80s with his wife sitting right beside him. He was such a lush they won’t even have to embalm him.”

isbn9780349006536-detail

So what do you have to do? Well firstly you have to be from the UK, apologies international readers, and secondly you have to leave a comment telling me what your favourite short story collection AND fairy tale is. Two book recommendations which could win you two signed copies of a wonderful book (which I am now popping in my case for a weekend at Ilkley Book Festival!) You have until midnight GMT on Monday the 5th of October 2015 – this is a day extension as Monday is a busy day on the blog. Good luck!

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Filed under Give Away, Margaret Atwood

The Tent – Margaret Atwood

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.

Bloomsbury Publishing, paperback, 2007, fiction, 176 pages, from my personal TBR

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.

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

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination – Margaret Atwood

I am quite surprised that I have not seen more mention here there and everywhere, though I could have been looking in the wrong places, about Margaret Atwood’s latest book ‘In Other Worlds’. Those of you who visit Savidge Reads will know that I am a huge fan of Atwood’s (indeed with both my mother and Gran loving her it was only time really until I would feel the same) both for her ‘literary fiction’ and for her ‘speculative fiction’ so I was instantly looking forward to this as a read, especially with its subject matter.

Virago Press, hardback, 2011, non-fiction, 272 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It’s this very thing that lies at the heart of ‘In Other Worlds’ I can’t think of anyone or anything, apart from possibly the Man Booker, which causes such debate about science fiction and ‘literature’ and the divides or lack thereof. I know some people who love her writing and yet feel slightly disappointed she has gone off into these speculative worlds like ‘The Handmaids Tale’ and that she is writing a follow up to ‘Oryx and Crake’ and ‘The Year of the Flood’.

 I remember reading a very negative piece somewhere that claimed Margaret Atwood didn’t want to be labelled as a science fiction writer and thought ‘that’s a bit snobby’ but this was taken out of context. Then came the Ursula K. Le Guin review of Atwood’s last novel ‘The Year of the Flood’ in which she quoted from (are you keeping up) Atwood’s essays ‘Moving Targets’, which I now really want to read, saying that Atwood didn’t believe her books were science fiction because the things in them were possible and may be happening, therefore they are speculative. Longer story shorter, ‘In Other Worlds’ is Margaret Atwood’s response to this and is even dedicated to Le Guin. It is so much more than a simple SFF vs. the rest of the literary world book though.

The book is set into three sections. In the first ‘In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination’ we are treated to three long essays. The first of which Margaret Atwood discusses her love of science fiction, based on the fact that growing up in rural Canada she would read anything and everything and this meant a lot of her father’s science fiction, comic books, pulp, noir, you name it. She went on to draw and create stories of her own superhero’s… flying rabbits, and looks at the myth of the superhero and compares it to science fiction. The second looks at the myths and religions that make up science fiction in varying ways and the third how Margaret Atwood created ‘ustopia’s’ based on merging utopias and dystopias. I loved this section, in part because the way Atwood writes makes it feel like you are sat having a conversation about these things with her (if only), there is a humour and knowingness as you go along, secondly because it shows the forming of a writer which I always find fascinating and thirdly because it made me think. A lot. This isn’t writing you can rush, you need to read it, pause, think a bit, make some mental notes, read on, have a bigger pause, think more. I loved that this was the effect it had on me.

The second section entitled ‘Other Deliberations’ is a selection of reviews and essays about novels or writing that people see is either definitely science fiction, definitely literary fiction with a science fiction twist or seen as speculative fiction. One of the books she covers is ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro (another book I love) and it’s here I think she shows that really does it matter what genre or pigeon hole books are pushed, good and thought provoking writing is what matters. “Ishiguro isn’t much interested in the practicalities of cloning and organ donation… Nor is this a novel about future horrors: it’s set not in a Britain-yet-to-come but a Britain-off-to-the-side.” Not only did I want to rush and read that again, I found all the books she discussed which i hadn’t read such as H. Rider Haggard’s ‘She’ and ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley are going to be racing up the TBR and being borrowed from the library.

The final main section of the book ’Five Tributes’ are works of Atwoood’s which she believes are truly SF works of fiction, they are all slight but all wonderful, I loved everyone of these. I also thought it was particularly clever of her to choose ‘The Peach Women of Aa’A’ from ‘The Blind Assassin’ as the final one. This is a fictional tale written inside her fictional tale at the heart of ‘The Blind Assassin’ and not only reminded me of what an incredible writer she is but how diverse, I smiled to myself that a book which won the Booker does indeed have a science fictional twist in it’s heart and then felt a little cross people forget that. It also reminds the reader that reading shouldn’t be about boundaries people confine them to, in fact all literature should celebrate the fact that the boundaries are endless full stop, so why are we so obsessed with defining it?

I hope that you come away from this long ramble that forms a ‘review’ or set of ‘book thoughts’ with an inclination to pick up this book when you can. It’s a book for book lovers in the fact that it’s overall theme is the celebration of writing, and then looking at the way we take writing in and pass on our thoughts. It also shows once again what a wonderful writer Margaret Atwood is regardless of whatever genre of writer you might feel the need to put her in. ‘In Other Worlds’ is certainly one of my books of the year without a doubt.

So where do you sit on the Margaret Atwood Speculative vs. Science vs. Literary fiction debate and why do we feel the need to pigeon hole and then get defensive over those pigeon holes?

P.S Small note to say this was a hot topic between myself and Gavin on this weeks The Readers podcast which you can listen to here.

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Filed under Books of 2011, Margaret Atwood, Non Fiction, Review, Virago Books

Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood

When I chose ‘Cat’s Eye’ by Margaret Atwood for one of my book groups I had no idea that it would become a book that would cause such a reaction in me. I have mentioned a few times on Savidge Reads how sometimes reading a book can become and experience, you live it. Sometimes books can become more than that, they seem to become the subconscious focus of all your thoughts and they bring back emotions and feelings you thought you had long forgotten, and not always the most comfortable ones.

Before I talk about the effect that ‘Cat’s Eye’ has had on me, and the emotional reaction I had, I think that’s its best to set the scene and tell you more about the book itself. When Elaine Risley finds herself back in Toronto after many years, for a retrospective of her paintings and work in one of the galleries, she starts to look back to her childhood there. These are not the sweetest of nostalgic notions, in fact the more we learn about Elaine’s past and her friendship with a trio of girls the more we realise memory lane was a very painful road indeed.

After spending most of her time living a rather secluded life as her parents escape the big towns and cities during the Second World War, moving to Toronto is a whole new lifestyle and adjustment and one made harder by the fact that Elaine has never really felt like a girl (in fact discussing having her own two daughters she admits she wanted sons as she thought she would relate to them better) so when she befriends Grace and Carol it is with relief. That is until after a summer trip away a new girl has arrived in town called Cordelia, and from the moment she joins this group the dynamic changes and the line between friends and foes is no longer black and white.

I could talk more about where the story leads you, how it evokes the difference between the metropolitan and wild parts of Canada, how it looks at the countries history between WWII and the 1980’s and the changes for women in that period – these all linger in the background of ‘Cat’s Eye’ making it a multi-layered read and even more of a masterpiece in some ways. I think it would also give too much away and this is a book you need to go into a little blindly for it to really take hold. At heart though this is a tale of childhood bullying, much worse when done by friends, and how those actions and events can scar us far more than we ever know. It was this part of the book that really got to me and was for me what the book was all about.

“Cordelia and Grace and Carol take me to the deep hole in Cordelia’s backyard. I’m wearing a black dress and a cloak from the dress-up cupboard. I’m supposed to be Mary Queen of Scots, headless already. They pick me up by the underarms and feet and lower me into the hole. Then they arrange the boards over the top. The daylight air disappears, and there’s the sound of dirt hitting the boards, shovelful after shovelful. Inside the hole it’s dim and cold and damp and smells like toad burrows.
    Up above, outside, I can hear their voices, and then I can’t hear them. I lie there wondering when it will be time to come out. Nothing happens. When I was put into the hole I knew it was a game; now I know it is not one. I feel sadness, a sense of betrayal. Then I feel the darkness pressing down on me; then terror.”

From the initial little jibes and retorts, sometimes the smallest of incidents can be the most damaging, to larger more threatening events like burying Elaine in the garden as ‘a game’ (which was one of the most vivid moments of the first third of the book but not the worst that they do) Atwood makes the acts of bullying come to life in a way that really takes you back to your own childhood and those awkward moments where friends can be enemies and where someone must become the head of the gang.

I myself was bullied at school, I think most kids are at some point, so maybe that’s why this rang so true with me, but I simply couldn’t shake the feeling of it and it really, really got to me. To me, though rather uncomfortable, that is the sign of a wonderful book and a wonderful writer. Through Elaine’s often distant and removed narrative I was projecting my own experiences and emotions and it, along with Atwood’s creation of course, drove ‘Cat’s Eye’ and hit home. I can feel the emotions again just writing about the book, it’s the strangest and most emotive reading experience I have had in a long time, possibly ever.

If you haven’t read ‘Cat’s Eye’ then you really must. I have ummed and ahhed about whether this is my favourite Atwood so far, despite it disturbing me and my memories quite a lot because it was so powerful, and I think it’s too close to reading it to call. I need to let it stay and settle (or unsettle me) further. It is a book which certainly further proves what an amazing and eclectic author she is and certainly a book I have lived through and should be commended for its many layers, most of all for being one of the most insightful books into bullying and the scars it leaves behind I have ever read. A brilliantly uncomfortable read all in all and one I have found rather personally haunting. 10/10

This is a book I have had for years and years and meant to read… I think I might need to turn to these books more often than I have been doing.

As you can imagine this was a great book group choice with lots to discuss. Who else has read ‘Cat’s Eye’? I would be really interested to see if anyone else who has read it was left feeling like their childhood had been brought right back to the forefront of their brains and if it left them feeling breathless (or even dreaming about it as I did)? I wonder if it is as autobiographical as they say it is. Which other books have you read that hit an emotional part of you really hard or brought an uncomfortable part of your life to the fore?

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Filed under Book Group, Books of 2011, Margaret Atwood, Review, Virago Books

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.

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

Surfacing – Margaret Atwood

An author that seems to be universally loved by three generations of book addicts in the Savidge Family is Margaret Atwood. Both my Gran and my Mother are avid fans and, though it took a little longer with me, I have now followed suit. I was trying to explain on the phone to my Gran at 7am this very morning how I love Atwood’s prose despite the fact that on occasion I find it hard. Not as in hard to read, though that can be true on occasion as she is super intelligent, rather she doesn’t do namby-pamby literary writing, its more focused less floral. Am I making sense, sometimes I can’t tell! Yet with my latest Atwood read ‘Surfacing’ (which I literally picked up on a whim, I was planning on reading Cat’s Eye as my next Atwood read – and yes I do have the lovely green virago edition) I feel like I have seen another side to her work completely.

‘Surfacing’ was Margaret Atwood’s second novel released way back in 1972 and has become something of a cult classic particularly in her homeland of Canada. It tells of an unnamed narrator whose father has disappeared and who has come back to her homeland, a place she visits as rarely as possible, in order to try and find out what has happened to him. She doesn’t come alone but with two close friends, a married couple, Anna and David and her first lover since her divorce Joe. It’s in part the divorce and the shame her family feel that has kept her away though in truth she hates the city she resides in now as much as where she came from.

During her stay in her former childhood home, which is a remote island on a large lake in Northern Quebec and is beautifully drawn for the reader, she inevitably looks back in a mixture of nostalgic joy and regret at her childhood and those formulative years. She then starts to take a greater look at herself, why she only seems to coast in life slightly aimless and never truly contented. That’s at least what you get on the initial surface of the book and yet being Atwood there is so much more to it. It’s a look at what it was to be a woman in Canada after the war and we don’t just see one view, we also get glimpses into Anna’s ‘happy marriage’. It’s a book about nature and what impact it has on the people we are. It’s also about discovery, or rediscovery, of oneself.

It’s a small book with a huge amount to say but Atwood is a true master of getting the most out of a sentence and will produce gems like “that was before we were married and I still listened to what he said” a simple line that conjures up a situation and mood in just those words. She also has the same knack with characters. Often something minimal that a character does is written into the book in such a way that you are instantly given a picture of there personality in one go.

“Anna told us that. Everyone can do a little magic, she reads hands at parties, she says it’s a substitute for conversation. When she did mine she said “Do you have a twin?” I said No. “Are you positive,” she said “because some of your lines are double.” Her index finger traced me: “You had a good childhood but then there’s this funny break.” She puckered her forehead and I said I just wanted to know how long I was going to live, she could skip the rest. After that she told us Joe’s hands were dependable but not sensitive and I laughed, which was a mistake.
From the side he’s like a buffalo on the U.S nickel, shaggy and blunt-snouted, with small clenched eyes and the defiant but insane look of a species once dominant, now threatened with extinction. That’s how he thinks of himself too.: deposed, unjustly. Secretly he would like them to set ip a kind of park for him, like a bird sanctuary. Beautiful Joe.”

I don’t feel that I can do this book justice, which makes me most annoyed with myself, but its such a subtle slow burning book with so much in it that to encapsulate it in less than a thousand words is nigh on impossible. It’s also very, very funny. I cackled a few times especially when Anna would say something terribly un-pc that you yourself would wish to say and follow it with ‘am I awful?’ she’s a great character. I don’t know if its just that Atwood’s style has changed the more she has written or if she has done this with recent books that I haven’t read as yet, but the prose matches the gentle pace, it is almost floral in parts (apt as the book is so much about nature as it is people) but never for the sake of it.

“The wind starts again, brushing over us, the air warm-cool and fluid, the tree’s behind us moving their leaves, the sound ripples; the water gives off an icy light, zinc moon breaking on small waves. Loon voice, each hair on my body lifting with a shiver; the echoes deflect from all sides, surrounding us, here everything echoes.”

Every word counts and everyone has been carefully picked. Well, that’s the feeling you have when reading it and I think its one of my favourite Atwood reads so far. 9/10

I don’t want to compare this book to any others as I am not sure there are any that I could recommend or would feel fair comparing to. So instead I thought I would leave you with two of my most recent favourite Atwood reading experiences below, both completely different from this one. Which is your favourite Atwood novel? Which one must I turn to next? Has anyone noticed the hardness in some novels (maybe bluntness, no – I can’t get the word exactly) compared to others, maybe it’s the more ‘speculative’ novels that have this? Have you yet to try any Atwood?

Good Bones – Margaret Atwood (a great selection of her shorter works, some essays and some stories, which would be a great way in for a beginner to Atwood, or a delightful addition to any Atwood collection a fan may have)
The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood (her Booker winner and the novel widely described as her masterpiece so far, though all the works of hers I have read have been a delight. Its hard work and needs patience but the reward for your efforts is fantastic)

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Filed under Books of 2010, Margaret Atwood, Review, Virago Books

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?

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

Books of 2009

As the end of the year draws in I find that I become quite reflective. I have actually had a bit of an issue with reading this week and wonder if that is an end of year thing, more on that at some other point. 2009 has been a big year for this blog; it’s also been a big year for my reading. It seems a delightful coincidence that today as I wrap up my best reads of 2009 it is also my 500th post which I think deserves some fireworks…

My original idea of doing my ‘best of’ like I did last year with The Savidge Dozen just wasn’t working. I have read too many brilliant books and so I thought I would instead do two separate top ten’s. The first being my favourite books published or re-issued in 2009 itself which was hard and actually I got down to a final twelve but I had to cut the delightful books Notwithstanding and ‘The Earth Hums in B Flat’ and be tough to make the ten which are (click on each title for full review)…

10. Legend of a Suicide by David Vann – One of the most emotionally raw novels I have ever read. Fictional accounts of a father’s suicide, the events leading up to it and the effects of this tragedy on his son and others around him, based in parts on the authors own fathers suicide. Moving and masterfully written.  

9. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood – The first of two Atwood novels that truly made my year. This dark (and often darkly funny) tale of the future of humanity starts off sounding like something out of a sci-fi novel yet disturbingly slowly reads as a not too distant possibility.  

8. After The Fire, A Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld – Without question the debut novel of the year for me. A book many are labelling as being a ‘War book’, I wouldn’t 100% agree with that as its so much more. The author calls it a ‘romantic thriller about men who don’t speak’ I would call it ‘a book about the dark truths behind the faces of those we love’ a compelling and moving read.

7. Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill – Some loved it some hated it, I revelled in it. Susan Hill’s thoughts on some of her books and the people she met who wrote them. And she popped by and made a comment or two.

6. The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan – A fictional account of those famous Bronte Sisters which sadly didn’t get the Man Booker notice it should have. This brings the Bronte’s to life and you will think of them slightly differently. Made me want to read every Bronte book I could… as yet I haven’t started but a possible resolution for 2010, that or read all of Morgan’s prior works.

5. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – The deserved winner from the Man Booker Shortlist and the one I guessed (though I was hoping a certain other book would win, see below). I thought that there had been Tudor fiction overload, I was wrong just as I was wrong that reading a book about Thomas Cromwell that was huge would bore me to death, I was enthralled and enwrapped.

4. Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie – The only way I can think of to describe this book which skips such a huge expanse of time is ‘a war torn epic’. I thought this was marvellous and was thrilled I got to hear her speak about it and even ask her a question; I was a bit in awe.

3. Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran – Definitely the non fiction book of 2009, well published in 2009. Getting a glimpse into the private world of such a marvellous author and how her criminal mastermind brain worked and plotted was utterly fascinating.

2. Henrietta’s War by Joyce Dennys – Technically not actually released originally in 2009, but thankfully brought back from the past thanks to the wonderful Bloomsbury Group. The tale of Henrietta and the villagers she lives with during the war had me laughing out loud all over the place.

1. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin – A book I fell wholly in love with from start to finish. It might not have the biggest plot or be brimming with a huge cast of characters but its simplicity is what makes it so stunning. An interesting look at the life of a woman who is sent to be saved from the poverty in Ireland by being shipped to America, only not everyone wants to be saved. Utterly stunning and quietly intense.

***

Then I had the ridiculous task of finding the ten ‘best of the rest’ which in a year where I read such delights as The Secret Scripture (which lost a point or two for the ending I won’t lie) and the joy Miss Garnett’s Angel and had a Sensation Season was going to be tough. OK, so it’s not quite ten but it’s as close as I could get. The final ten (cough, eleven) are…

10. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith – I wasn’t convinced that a thriller based on a child murderer in the time of Stalinist Russia would work for me. I was utterly wrong as I think for me it’s been the thriller of the year. Also thrilling was getting to go to Tom’s house for coffee and questions.

9. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood – Proof that sometimes books can be hard work but all that hard work is definitely worth it. Opening with the suicide of the narrator’s sister, this becomes an epic novel of the lives of the Chase sisters and the effects of the Second World War. Also comes with an intriguing novel inside the novel and a sci-fi-ish novel inside that one, are you keeping up?

8. State of Happiness by Stella Duffy – I am a big admirer of Stella and her work and this to me is her best fiction yet (oh but wait for the next one in 2010) despite loving her latest book The Room of Lost Things in 2008. This is a tale about love and ultimately death and it broke my heart and made me cry quite a lot. If you are up for an emotional journey and wonderful writing you simply cannot miss this book.

7. Lady into Fox by David Garnett – Wonderful surreal and touching fable of a husband and how he deals with his wife randomly turning into a fox one day. This is may only be 96 pages long but each page is perfection.

6. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell – Most of the planet with have read this novel so I will simply say a modern classic masterpiece about a dystopian future where we are all under the watchful all seeing eye of Big Brother and should ever be fearful of Room 101.  

5. The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett – My first year of reading Persephone books and this one just took me on a journey that I wasn’t expecting. A sensational tale of rich American heiresses, one whom meekly marries an Englishman for a title and vanishes, the other a forthright woman who wishes to seek her sister out and solve the mystery of what has befallen her.

4. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes – A total surprise hit of 2009 for me. I never thought that a ‘sci-fi’ book about a mentally handicapped man and a genius mouse would grab me let alone move me to tears and yet this frankly marvellous book did exactly that.

3. Small Island by Andrea Levy – Really this is a modern masterpiece. A tale of two completely different women brought together through war and adversity. Also a tale of forbidden love, war, racism and hope, a remarkable book I was glad Granny Savidge Reads recommended so strongly and so often.

2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – This book is what I may now consider the greatest nonfiction book I have ever read (so far – though unlikely to be beaten). A true tale of the ruthless killing of a family in America, and a thought provoking quite often disturbing study of their murderers. In parts bleak and horrific, it’s also emotional (I cried at this one too) and yet a darkly fascinating insight into the minds of killers.  

1. East Lynne by Ellen Wood/Armadale by Wilkie Collins – Technically I am cheating but I really couldn’t decide between these two. The epic scope, characters and thrilling plots of each of these was utterly remarkable. In a year where I rediscovered my loved of all things sensational I found these two new favourite books. Both of these are genuine gems of sensation novels and couldn’t have more mystery, twists, dramas or thrills if they tried.

***

I have to say I don’t think that minimal short snappy reviews are my fortes so do visit the full reviews, they are much better. Should you be really tough and ask me which out of this final twenty one would be my favourite of the year I would have to go with… Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. I know some people will be surprised after my sensation fiction love in and some of you won’t agree and that’s fine, though don’t push your negative comments below this post (ha, ha, ha), for me it was just wonderful and a true surprise delight in this years Man Booker Longlist read-a-thon. There will be much more Toibin to come in 2010 I promise you. Now I must dash as I have a party to prepare for (attending not hosting) and some resolutions to make… What have been your best books of 2009?

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Levy, Books of 2009, Colm Toibin, Daniel Keyes, David Garnett, David Vann, Ellen Wood, Evie Wyld, Frances Hodgson Burnett, George Orwell, Hilary Mantel, John Curran, Jude Morgan, Kamila Shamsie, Margaret Atwood, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Tom Rob Smith, Truman Capote, Wilkie Collins

Books of the Noughties

I feel a little like all I have been doing of late is compiling lists. If it wasn’t the two lists for best books of 2009 for next week, or books for 2010 for both work (I now have the books page in the magazine hoorah) and for the blog then it was shopping lists for the family Christmas presents, even though not seeing most of them till the end of January, and the never ending Christmas food fest shopping list. This is the list that has proved the most difficult.

I will admit that it’s really only since 2006 that my reading got out of hand. It’s interesting that that was also a year where escapism was the thing that I needed the most, it wasn’t the happiest year – well until I met The Converted One – a long bad relationship ended and I had a rather huge health scare all in all not the best. Yet the positive that came out of that year, roughly from February on, was that I utterly embraced my love for books again. I had been reading but maybe one book every month or so.

Now you would think in the nearly four years its been I wouldn’t have read that many of ‘the books of the noughties’ but this list has taken ages, books have been fighting with each other its been carnage. I have always preferred contemporary fiction to classics (though this has changed rather a lot this year) looking back over my blog and pre-blog ‘books I have read’ lists which I compile each year I have actually consumed quite a few though not all the big contenders I have seen in the papers. So bearing in mind I haven’t read every great book since 2000 (not that we will all agree on the great books since then, Cloud Atlas for example which I loathed) here are the books that made my top ten of the noughties with their blurbs, I could write a paragraph on each of them but am a) listed out and b) I loved them end of…

The Time Travellers Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

This extraordinary, magical novel is the story of Clare and Henry who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future. His disappearances are spontaneous and his experiences are alternately harrowing and amusing. The Time Traveler’s Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare’s passionate love for each other with grace and humour. Their struggle to lead normal lives in the face of a force they can neither prevent nor control is intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

A father and his son walk alone through burned America, heading through the ravaged landscape to the coast. This is the profoundly moving story of their journey. “The Road” boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which two people, ‘each the other’s world entire’, are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

Small Island – Andrea Levy

It is 1948, and England is recovering from a war. But at 21 Nevern Street, London, the conflict has only just begun. Queenie Bligh’s neighbours do not approve when she agrees to take in Jamaican lodgers, but Queenie doesn’t know when her husband will return, or if he will come back at all. What else can she do? Gilbert Joseph was one of the several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler. Returning to England as a civilian he finds himself treated very differently. It’s desperation that makes him remember a wartime friendship with Queenie and knock at her door. Gilbert’s wife Hortense, too, had longed to leave Jamaica and start a better life in England. But when she joins him she is shocked to find London shabby, decrepit, and far from the golden city of her dreams. Even Gilbert is not the man she thought he was.

Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

“Kafka on the Shore” follows the fortunes of two remarkable characters. Kafka Tamura runs away from home at fifteen, under the shadow of his father’s dark prophesy. The aging Nakata, tracker of lost cats, who never recovered from a bizarre childhood affliction, finds his pleasantly simplified life suddenly turned upside down. Their parallel odysseys are enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerising dramas. Cats converse with people; fish tumble from the sky; a ghostlike pimp deploys a Hegel-spouting girl of the night; a forest harbours soldiers apparently un-aged since WWII. There is a savage killing, but the identity of both victim and killer is a riddle. Murakami’s new novel is at once a classic tale of quest, but it is also a bold exploration of mythic and contemporary taboos, of patricide, of mother-love, of sister-love. Above all it is an entertainment of a very high order.

Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This highly anticipated novel from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is set in Nigeria during the 1960s, at the time of a vicious civil war in which a million people died and thousands were massacred in cold blood. The three main characters in the novel are swept up in the violence during these turbulent years. One is a young boy from a poor village who is employed at a university lecturer’s house. The other is a young middle-class woman, Olanna, who has to confront the reality of the massacre of her relatives. And the third is a white man, a writer who lives in Nigeria for no clear reason, and who falls in love with Olanna’s twin sister, a remote and enigmatic character. As these people’s lives intersect, they have to question their own responses to the unfolding political events. This extraordinary novel is about Africa in a wider sense: about moral responsibility, about the end of colonialism, about ethnic allegiances, about class and race; and about the ways in which love can complicate all of these things.

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

Laura Chase’s older sister Iris, married at eighteen to a politically prominent industrialist but now poor and eighty-two, is living in Port Ticonderoga, a town dominated by their once-prosperous family before the First War. While coping with her unreliable body, Iris reflects on her far from exemplary life, in particular the events surrounding her sister’s tragic death. Chief among these was the publication of The Blind Assassin, a novel which earned the dead Laura Chase not only notoriety but also a devoted cult following. Sexually explicit for its time, The Blind Assassin describes a risky affair in the turbulent thirties between a wealthy young woman and a man on the run. During their secret meetings in rented rooms, the lovers concoct a pulp fantasy set on Planet Zycron. As the invented story twists through love and sacrifice and betrayal, so does the real one; while events in both move closer to war and catastrophe. By turns lyrical, outrageous, formidable, compelling and funny, this is a novel filled with deep humour and dark drama. 

Atonement – Ian McEwan

On the hottest day of the summer of 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge. By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl’s imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a crime for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone.

Running With Scissors – Augusten Burroughs

This is the story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of grandeur) gave him away to be raised by her psychiatrist, a dead ringer for Santa Claus and a certifiable lunatic into the bargain. Suddenly at the age of 12, Augusten found himself living in a dilapidated Victorian house in perfect squalor. The doctor’s bizarre family, a few patients and a paedophile living in the garden shed completed the tableau. Here, there were no rules or school. The Christmas tree stayed up until Summer and valium was chomped down like sweets. When things got a bit slow, there was always the ancient electroshock therapy machine under the stairs.

The Book Thief – Markus Zusack

Here is a small fact – you are going to die. 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier. Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall. Some important information – this novel is narrated by death. It’s a small story, about: a girl, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. Another thing you should know – Death will visit the book thief three times.

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters – Charlotte Mosley

The never-before published letters of the legendary Mitford sisters, alive with wit, affection, tragedy and gossip: a charismatic history of the century’s signal events played out in the lives of a controversial and uniquely gifted family. Nancy, the scalding wit who parlayed her family life into bestselling novels. Diana, the fascist jailed with her husband, Oswald Mosley, during WWII. Unity, a suicide, torn by her worship of Hitler and her loyalty to home. Debo, who adored pleasure and fun, and found herself Duchess of Devonshire. Pamela, who craved nothing more than a quiet country life. Jessica, the runaway, a communist and fighter for social change. The Mitfords became myth in their own time: the great wits and beauties of their age, they were immoderate in their passions for ideas and people. Virtually spanning the century, these letters between the sisters — alternately touching and explosive — constitute a superb social chronicle, and explore with disarming intimacy their shifting relationships. As editor Charlotte Mosley notes, not since the Brontes has a single family written so much about themselves, or been so written about. Their letters are widely recognized to contain the best of their writing. Mosley, Diana’s niece, will select from an archive of 18,000, to which she has exclusive access.

So that is your lot, not necessarily in order as it changes every hour or so. As I said lots of books fought for the top ten spot and I could easily have added The Life of Pi, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Child 44, What Was Lost, On Chesil Beach, The Kite Runner, Notes on a Scandal, The Secret Scripture and many many more. A top 40 would have been good but might have been somewhat excessive. It has made me think how difficult doing this in 2020 will be considering I read so much more now. Anyway, this is my list in all its (some of you may think questionable) glory. What are your top books of the noughties? Oh and what do we call the next decade, the tensies, the teens?

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Filed under Audrey Niffenegger, Augusten Burroughs, Charlotte Mosley, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Cormac McCarthy, Haruki Murakami, Ian McEwan, Marcus Zusack, Margaret Atwood

The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood

I have been meaning to read Margaret Atwood’s latest novel The Year of The Flood for ages. I don’t know exactly why it took me so long to get around to opening the first few pages. I think part of it was the question as to whether or not you have to read Oryx and Crake first which I haven’t done. Some people say you do and some people say you don’t. Margaret Atwood herself has said you don’t need to, so I went with her opinion as apparently this is a ‘sister’ novel.

The Year of the Flood is set in the future, though quite when I wasn’t sure I personally felt it wasn’t too much in the distance and yet not in the next decade. The book is told through the experiences and life’s of two members of what people deem the cult ‘God’s Gardeners’ who await ‘the waterless flood’ which will kill out most of mankind. Here their leader Adam One teaches the followers of this mix of science and religion in a slightly free spirited way. After all this is the man who says ‘it is better to hope than to mope’ also showing some of Atwood’s wry humour. Two female members who come into this cult are Ren as a young girl when her mother runs off with her and one of the other members of God’s Gardeners, the other is Toby who is literally though never quite spiritually saved by Adam One.

The book alternates between the voices of Ren in second person and Toby in first person both in the times before ‘The Flood’ and in the times after interspersed with the preaching’s and hymns of Adam One and the God’s Gardeners (which I did find a little irritating – tiny bit – but could see their purpose). Ren has become a dancer and worker in a high class sex club and Toby has been living out of a derelict AnooYoo Spa living off the edible treatments. The question of what the flood is and if human kind, green rabbits and liobambs (dangerous creatures half lion half sheep) can survive is one that you will have to read the book to find out.

Now I don’t want to give anything away but I do need to give a little to explain further why I thought this book was so brilliant. Atwood uses the way the women enter the world of God’s Gardeners in a really interesting way in aspects to their views on it. Ren is brought there as a child and so really knows no better than the confines she is in until she leaves them (I won’t say why or when or how) and has to be a child in the ‘real world’ a world where SecretBurgers are made from just that… secrets ingredients, and if you are a cat fan beware of this chain and where the CorpSeCorps rule everything. Toby herself is rescued from that world and though joins the God’s Gardeners and becomes an Eve herself she is never quite sure if she believes all that she is meant to.

I found these different outlooks on the cult group fascinating and also their reactions to the fearful world outside the God’s Gardeners habitats. It’s also these differing pasts before The Flood that make how both women survive the initial time after when we join them so interesting and so utterly opposite. Mingle in Atwood’s dark tales of urban life, her wry humour, a death scene which made me cry and her thought provoking plot and you can’t really go wrong. Can you tell that I really, really loved this book yet? It’s a speculative spectacle.

So do you need to have read Oryx and Crake first? I hadn’t before I read this, though I will be reading it very soon I can assure you, and I didn’t feel that I was confused by the book as its wonderfully drawn for you with Atwood’s prose and is so rivetingly readable. Maybe I will read Oryx and Crake and think ‘oh no… I know how this ends’ but time will tell. Have you read either of these books?

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2009, Margaret Atwood, Review

Good Bones – Margaret Atwood

Good Bones is a book by Margaret Atwood that I had never heard of before and indeed found by accident. I always think it’s a delight when you are wandering aimlessly along shelves of books (though as book lovers I am also sure you will understand the awful crick in your neck you get from browsing book spines at an angle) looking for something delightful to take your fancy and this was such an occasion. It wasn’t in a book shops as November is my trial ‘no book buying month’ it was in the library. As soon as I spotted this, I always have a look at what Atwood’s they have, adored the cover and so grabbed it. I also thought it was a novella and have been trying to read more, but this book is something quite, quite different.

Good Bones is a selection of twenty seven short works by Margaret Atwood. I say short works as some of them read as fiction, some seem to be essays, some are fable like and others just seem to be the wanderings of the author. It’s like a note book filled with Atwood-like idea’s is possibly the best way to describe it, like a scrap book of possible idea’s for books and longer tales as the longest of this collection is fourteen pages.

The themes of the tales seem to be fables, fairy tales and dare I mention it ‘speculative’ pieces. You have a tale of the Little Red Hen who can’t quite work out what all the fuss is about that she grew a loaf of bread and the furore it caused. You have Hamlet’s mother Gertrude who actually wanted to call him George and who was not ‘wringing her hands’ but ‘drying her nails’. Wicked Stepmothers and Ugly Sisters fight their corner and for feminism (in fact feminist themes glimmer between these tales) as they stand up for themselves and make the point that tough love always seems to get the bimbo princess her man in the end doesn’t it? Despite moments of utter laughter such as when the Little Red Hen says ‘Then I’ll do it myself, I said, as the nun quipped to the vibrator’. It’s not all fairy tales and giggles though.

There is the very short but intense, sexy and passionate ‘In Love With Raymond Chandler’. The feminist ‘The Female Body’ when Atwood is actually discussing Barbie’s and other dolls and the image they project to young girls. There is the look at men with ‘Making a Man’ which includes the Gingerbread Method and the Clothes Maketh the Man Method which looks at the difference between the sexes. It’s all so cleverly done and you feel that though these two or ten page stories are fully formed there could be several books in here that just haven’t be written yet.  

With twenty seven tales in 153 pages it is a marvellous selection of, as the wonderful cover says ‘pure distilled Atwood’. It’s funny in parts, sexy in parts and dark in parts, but then aren’t most Atwood novels all of these things? I think fans of Atwood will love the darkness and the wry slightly knowing humour and for anyone new to Atwood it’s a way of getting to know what wonderful fiction you are getting into in digestible pieces.

Has anyone else read this collection? What are your thoughts on authors re-writing fairy tales? Have you been in a book shop (so jealous if you have) or library of late and found there is a gem of a novel/book that you had never heard of by one of your favourite authors and if so what was it?

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Filed under Books of 2009, Margaret Atwood, Review, Short Stories, Virago Books

Atwood Addicts Advice

This is a special short additional blog today which is calling all Margaret Atwood fans, firstly to apologise for teasing you and then to ask for your advice. You see something very exciting (in fact in book arrivals of late there has been much excitement, more on this later in the week) has popped through my letterbox and I couldn’t wait to share it.

The Year of the Flood - Margaret AtwoodYes when the uncorrected proof of Margaret Atwood’s latest, and 14th, novel ‘The Year of the Flood’ has arrived at Savidge Towers, though actually the picture is from my desk (hence the bad picture) as I had to pick up the large parcel of books it came with from the post office. My mother and Gran will be green with envy, in fact as my Gran is coming to stay next week I may have to hide this just in case.

Now what has confused me is if this is a follow up to Oryx and Crake  or not in which case I need to read that first don’t I? In some reviews it says it is a follow up to Oryx and Crake, and then in other sites and blogs it says Oryx and Crakes follow up is the next book Atwood is writing. Confused? I am very muchly, so who knows. This is the blurb anyway…

Adam One, the kindly leader of the God’s Gardeners – a religion devoted to the melding of science and religion, the preservation of all species, the tending of the Earth, and the cultivation of bees and organic crops on flat rooftops – has long predicted the Waterless Flood. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women have avoided it: the young trapeze-dancer, Ren, locked into the high-end sex club, Scales and Tails; and former SecretBurgers meat-slinger turned Gardener, Toby, barricaded into the luxurious AnooYoo Spa, where many of the treatments are edible. Have others survived? Ren’s bioartist friend Amanda, or the MaddAddam eco-fighters? Ren’s one-time teenage lover, Jimmy? Or the murderous Painballers, survivors of the mutual-elimination Painball prison? Not to mention the CorpSeCorps, the shadowy and corrupt policing force of the ruling powers Meanwhile, in the natural world, gene-spliced life forms are proliferating: the lion/lamb blends, the Mo’hair sheep with human hair, the pigs with human brain tissue. As Adam One and his intrepid hemp-clad band make their way through a ruined world, singing their devotional hymns and faithful to their creed and to their Saints – Saint Francis Assisi, Saint Rachel Carson, and Saint Al Gore among them – what odds for Ren and Toby, and for the human race? By turns dark, tender, violent, thoughtful and uneasily hilarious, The Year of the Flood is Atwood at her most effective.

Now the next puzzle I have to figure out is the fact I want to read this now and yet I have eleven Man Booker Longlisters to get through in August… hmmm!

Is anyone else out there bar my mother and grandmother who is a huge Atwood fan and can’t wait for this. Do you like Atwood in her speculative fiction or her other fiction? All Atwood thoughts welcomed, well as long as they are polite and have no plot spoilers… which with all of you is a given.

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Filed under Margaret Atwood

The Lesser of Two Bookish Evils

What I love about Booking Through Thursday is that it always makes me think. I generally end up waffling on (as I am sure I will do today) and find varying tangents to discuss. It makes me think out the box though and this weeks question “Which is worse… finding a book you love and then hating everything else you try by that author, or reading a completely disappointing book by an author that you love?” has not only made me think more about books and what I have read but also how I read.

Out of the two I don’t think I could say which is worse because of some ‘reading rules’ I have, in fact I think I may have to do a blog in the near future on reading and reviewing rules I have, though they aren’t set in stone. If I read one book I absolutely love by an author I will undoubtedly pick another of their books up but it might take me weeks, months even years for me to read another of their books or for them to write another if it’s their debut. If I couldn’t wait (very rare that that happens) and the next one was rubbish I would sadly probably write them off. There is a clause in that statement though in respect of if someone whose opinion I trust raved about another of their works I would possibly give them a second chance.

So what about an author I love who releases a dud book? Well in order to love an author I have to have read more than three/four of their books. If one of them was a dud before that the rule above would apply so they wouldn’t be an author I love. I only at present have authors like that Daphne Du Maurier, Ian McEwan, Stella Duffy, Tess Gerritsen and Susan Hill all who so far with all their varying writing styles and genres haven’t failed me once.

I do get nervous reading the next of their works though that it might be the one book by them that will really bad or put me off them (in my head for some reason I am thinking of McEwan’s ‘Saturday’ instantly which I haven’t tried yet but worries me in advance) as yet none of them have written a bad word. If one did… I would be disappointed but I would forgive them. It has happened with one author who would have made my favourite readers amount to six not five and that is Kate Atkinson whose books I love only I had a really, really hard time with ‘Behind The Scenes At The Museum’ which was the second book I read of hers after ‘Human Croquet’. I didn’t get on with ‘Behind The Scenes…’ and so much so, though I am going to try again, I was tempted not to bother with her again. Luckily three people recommended ‘Case Histories’ to me and my oneside relationship with Kate has never looked back.

So not only has today’s blog made me think about my reading in a different way its also made me look at my reading pattern (is that what you call it) as I have noticed I have quite a lot of books I have absolutely loved and either not read another word by that author yet or (like Margaret Atwood) read the second one a year or so down the line. I am thinking maybe I need to start reading the whole works of some authors such as Margaret Atwood, Anne Tyler… oooh who else? Any recommendations, what about all of you?

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Filed under Anne Tyler, Book Thoughts, Daphne Du Maurier, Ian McEwan, Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Tess Gerritsen

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

So finally I have gotten to the point where I can review what was meant to be the first book in the Savidge Reads Big Weekenders. However I think it is better to say that this is the book that inspired the Big Weekenders, as even devoting some long reading hours to it this simply isn’t a book you can indulge yourself with over one weekend. I have only read one Atwood book before this two, maybe three years ago, The Handmaid’s Tale, which I loved. I tried reading The Robber Bride but for some reason couldn’t get into it, then I tried this book three years ago and 15 pages in my Gran told me the ending so I have waited to forget it. Would I manage to read the whole book unlike last time? Would I love my second dalliance with Margaret, especially such a long one that has so much to say?

I don’t think that however long I made this review of Margaret Atwood’s Man Booker Winner ‘The Blind Assassin’ I could ever hope to cover all the book is trying to say, the themes it covers, the many voices it has. I actually think a task like that with a book like this would be impossible. That isn’t a cop out at all as I am going to try mu hardest to condense everything I have taken away from what is a magnificent book but by no means an easy book. I have actually been really surprised at how many people have said to me ‘oh I didn’t like that book at all’ and ‘oh it’s Atwood’s worst, it really is’ I can see why people make the first comment, I whole heartedly disagree with them but I can see why people might not like this book. If the latter comment is true after reading this book I could easily become an Atwood-a-holic as if this is her worst her best will be mind blowing.

The Blind Assassin starts with Iris Chase describing and remembering her sister Laura’s death after she drove herself off a bridge. From this dark and interesting start we are told the story in alternating parts. Iris narrates her own personal history, the story of her sisters life and their backgrounds that made them who they are. The other parts are told through Laura’s very own novel ‘The Blind Assassin’ (so a book within a book) published after her early death along with newspaper cuttings about the Chase Sisters and events in their lives. Has that confused anyone? It confused me a little at first especially as the Laura’s book ‘The Blind Assassin’ (the book within Atwood’s book) has a character who tells another story, so a story within the story within the story, that is set in a foreign world (which I thought had shades of The Handmaid’s Tale) and is like a dark science fiction like fairy tale, wonderful. Do not let the confusion or the words ‘science fiction’ put you off as I promise you persevere with this book and it pays off in dividends. It just needs some effort from the reader, but should every book no matter what you read.

As all these different elements are woven together so wonderfully by Atwood we see a picture emerging, however the picture changes dependent on who’s version you here until finally you think the full picture has formed and then it shifts slightly, that’s all I will say. Through the narration of Iris in particular, who is a wonderful slightly outrageous and sarcastic old lady compared to her timid youth “I’m not senile… if I burn the house down it will be on purpose”, we get a history of Canada and its changes in the 20th century, a look at how companies were taken over and ruined, and the rights of women and how they have changed. Like I said to cover every subject, theme or voice in this particular book in one review after only one full read through of the book I would say is pretty much impossible.

Along the way through happy and dark times, different voices and 633 pages of quite small print Atwood also treats us to a host of wonderful characters. Be they the tongue-less mute and her Blind Assassin in the fairytale, to the wonderful characters in both Iris and Laura Clarke’s lives such as the firm but fair housekeeper Reenie or Iris’ awful but wonderful to read sister-in-law Winifred. There is a whole host of wonderful characters to keep you reading on, and I will admit for some reason pages 200 – 300 were a strange struggle for me but the characters kept me going and I am so, so glad they did.

I would recommend this book to everyone and anyone. I am aware some people will think I must be crazy. My advice would be take it slowly, persevere and don’t see this book as a book to race through so you have read a Man Booker, or read one of Atwood’s biggest books (both in length and in sales) relax with it and work at it, you’ll be glad you did, I was.

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Filed under Man Booker, Margaret Atwood, Review, Virago Books