Tag Archives: Margaret Atwood

Self Flagellation

In the dark old days of Mao’s China, erring party disciples would, if they were exceptionally lucky, be made to write self-criticisms.  In these documents, the straying member of the flock would abase themselves, detail their crimes against the collective and swear to be a better and truer comrade in the future.  For all I know, this sort of thing still goes on.

In the short life of this blog, I find I have urinated copiously from the lofty internet heights on Robert Frost, Inga Clendinnen, Nick Hornby, Francis Collins, Emma Beare, Don DeLillo, Ron Rash, Madeleine St John, Andrew Porter, Bret Easton Ellis, Margaret Atwood, Norman McGreevy, Michael Leunig, Colleen McCullough, J D Salinger (the day after he died), Bryce Courtenay and Tim Winton.  Well over twenty per cent of my posts, in other words, have been more or less slavering attacks.

The tables must turn, however.  In the interests of fairness, I’m going to have a go at me.  Ladies and gentlemen, the scorpion is about to sting himself.  Let the Mao-style self-criticism begin.  I direct this not to Mao, but to George Orwell, whose Politics and the English Language is and shall always be my final guide to writing.  The idea of taking up a totalitarian epistolary notion and directing it at Orwell is grievously inappropriate, but I can’t resist. Continue reading


The Mad Aunt Called Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood moves through literary fiction like a mad aunt at a family gathering.  The kind of aunt you don’t really want to talk to, but is so bonkers that you know there will be a good anecdote to be had from the experience if you can only screw your courage to the sticking-place.  Atwood’s fiction is often just a touch odd: reading her is a bit like talking to someone who spends most of the conversation gazing over your left shoulder and twitching slightly.  You can get a sense of what her prose is like by listening to her speak.

The author of twenty novels, fourteen books of poetry, eight collections of non-fiction and six books for children, Atwood is one of the few women writing serious fiction today who can shift pretty serious quantities of lavishly produced Bloomsbury hardbacks.

Her most recent lavishly produced Bloomsbury hardback is The Year of the Flood, a 400-odd page behemoth which finds Atwood hammering away at the three themes she loves so well: the exploitation of women, religion and modernity.

The world of Year of the Flood is essentially America run through a distortion pedal with the volume cranked all the way to eleven: consumerism and corporations gone mad, religions competing to produce the most insane theology and a brutal gulf between the haves and the have nots.  To this already beleaguered universe Atwood adds a few touches that are pure Stephen King: a gladiatorial to-the-death sport called ‘Painball’, strip joints full to bursting with buxom lassies in reptile costumes and a virus that just about wipes out the human race. Continue reading