Tag Archives: Margaret Atwood

Best Of – International Women’s Day 2015

In addition to Sarah Marcus’ Girls to the Front which I posted here on Thursday, there are a number of other fantastic books I read this year written by great women. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, I wanted to share my favourite female-penned books that I reviewed on the blog this year.

Margaret Atwood – Alias Grace (1996)

AliasGraceLooking at the notorious 1843 murder of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery, Atwood imagines the events surrounding the crime by focusing in on the culprit, Grace Marks. She twists the story and even though Grace is the protagonist, the reader never gets full image of who she is. Through her writing, Atwood seeks to give Grace a voice and a point of view and does so in such an interesting way.

Jung Chang – While Swans (1991)        

wild_swans

It’s the true story of three generations of Chinese women living in China from the fall of Imperial rule to the death of Mao Ze Dong. The story is beautifully written with elements of both humour and tragedy as Chang recounts her own life growing up with Communist rule in China. It’s about China, but also about mothers and daughters and the enduring bonds that women share.

Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl (2012)

GoneGirlFlynn’s phycological thriller got people talking this year, especially with the release of the movie just this past fall. Flynn is a good writer, not great, but she does have this understanding of the “cool girl” syndrome, something I think all women and girls are familiar with. That men always want the “cool girl,” the effortlessly hot woman who doesn’t care if he all he does is drink beer and hang out with his friends. That ideal however doesn’t exist, and sometimes, that “cool girl” can end up being a psychopath. It’s a good book that will play with your head and test your assumptions about gender and relationships.

Caitlin Moran – How to be a Woman (2011)

Caitlin MoranIt’s hard to love Caitlin Moran, she tells it like it is and makes no apologies. She writes openly and honestly about her abortion, something that I don’t think many women would do. She is smart, funny, and quick in her writing providing readers with sound advice and hilarious anecdotes about what it means to be a woman.

Azar Nafisi – Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003)

ReadingLolitainTehranIn this literary memoir, Azar Nafisi writes about her experience, as a teacher of classical English literature living in Post-Revolutionary Iran. She and a select few of her student start a “forbidden” book club which moves from being place for scholarly discussion, to one where these young women can share their deepest hopes, dreams, and fears about the future. It’s about books bringing women together at a time and place when circumstance is threatening to tare them apart. It’s a poignant and charming read about the lasting bonds of female friendship.

So there you have it, what are some of your favourite books about what it means to be a woman?

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Margaret Atwood – Alias Grace (1996)

AliasGrace

I have previous stated elsewhere that I only enjoy Margaret Atwood’s dystopian futures. Alias Grace is not a dystopian future, but is historical fiction, which is my favourite genre. While it took me a while to get into the story, Atwood likes to switch between the perspective of a doctor and the perspective of Grace herself which makes the story feel disjointed at times, I fell into its pace quickly.

Alias Grace, is Atwood’s take on the notorious 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery. While I had originally anticipated the book to be Atwood’s reconstruction of the events, the story was much more. The novel is not an attempt to blame Grace Marks for the murders, nor is it an attempt to dissolve her from guilt. It took me a while to realize what Atwood was trying to do, but from my point of view she was trying to show the how Grace Marks was viewed at the time, especially through the eyes of a (fictional) doctor conducting research into criminal behavior, and the media. Atwood also writes from Grace’s point of view regarding events leading up to the murders and after her conviction but when written from Grace’s point of view, the reader is not sure if Grace is speaking or thinking, thus if the events are true, making this read even more intriguing.

There is no question that Atwood is a wonderful story teller and she spins the story of Grace Marks in such a twisted and interesting way. While Grace is the main character in the story, the reader never gets a true grasp on who she really is. Even through her own perspective, Grace’s character seems to shift into all the different roles ascribed to her, a murderess, a seducer, an innocent servant tricked by a jealous farmhand. Just as historically no one was sure if Grace Marks was guilty or not, the reader is left similarly wondering the same thing.

Margaret Atwood – Maddaddam Trilogy (2013)

Maddaddam

Growing up in the Canadian school system, Margaret Atwood was a name that was thrown around a lot. Her books never really appealed to me however and I made it though high school without having to read any. It wasn’t until a summer in university that I picked up The Handmaid’s Tale and absolutely devoured it. I decided to try another one of Atwood’s dystopian futures, Oryx and Crake and while I did not love it as much as The Handmaid’s Tale, I decided to stick with the series and read the other two books. I was not disappointed as, for me, The Year of the Flood, and Maddaddam were spellbinding.

The trilogy takes place in a post-apocalyptic United States with flashbacks to they way things were before the breakout of an epidemic that wiped out a majority of the population. In Oryx and Crake, you meet Crake and Jimmy, childhood friends who grew up together in a government compound where pharmaceuticals were manufactured. The society that the two boys grow up in is a morally depraved one where the government manufactures a drug for everything and popular forms of entertainment include watching public executions and various lewd sexual acts. Crake as the more gifted of the two creates his own “species” of humans called “Crakers” who were devoid of all the flaws he saw in his own species. You find out (Spoiler) that Crake is responsible for the epidemic released, but he left Jimmy alive to watch over the Crakers. The story is told alternating between Jimmy’s point of view in the present post-apocalyptic work, and a third person during flashbacks to Jimmy and Crake growing up. This wasn’t my favourite as I didn’t like either character and found them both to be annoying.

The Year of the Flood however was more interesting as it parallels the events of Oryx and Crake but takes place in the “Pleeblands” the area outside of government-run compounds and follows two characters, Toby and Ren and how they survived “The Flood.” This novel was more interesting as it brought in elements of religion with the “God’s Gardeners,” and the characters were more likeable with more interesting backstories. The third instalment, Maddaddam picks up where The Year of the Flood leaves off, but fell short of my expectations.

While the trilogy is full of hokey language (pigoons: a pig-racoon genetic hybrid; bimplants: breast implants, etc) Atwood paints a vision of the future that is entirely possible. Her world in Maddaddam differs drastically from her world in A Handmaid’s Tale. In the latter novel, the world is run my puritanical evangelists while in her more recent work drug companies and big businesses run the world. Think of it as a much more sobering version of Idiocracy (a great and fairly underrated movie). Juxtaposing the two books also says a great deal about Atwood’s activism and her response to the times. A Handmaid’s Tale was published in the late 1980’s when Evangelical Christianity was seeing a rebirth in North America. Now with Maddaddam Atwood is responding to current trends in entertainment, as well as the health and food industries. It is an entertaining read but underneath a very thought provoking one. Atwood’s view of the future is a realistic one, which is a very terrifying thing indeed.