I really like Margaret Atwood’s stories. She’s an absolute crafts-woman with words and can convey an idea in a word, a short sentence or in this specific instance, in a whole book. The much awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s tale goes deeper into this new world and offers a view from the inside as well as a birds-eye outlook from the outside.
This is a dazzling selection of stories–seventeen favorites chosen by the author from across her distinguished career. I have to admit to ignorance – I had not heard of Alice Munro until she was awarded the Nobel prize for literature and when she gained the spotlight, she gained one additional follower.
Alice Munro has been repeatedly hailed as one of our greatest living writers, a reputation that has been growing for years. The stories brought together here span a quarter century, drawn from some of her earliest books, The Beggar Maid and The Moons of Jupiter, through her recent best-selling collection, Runaway.
I’ve read I’m starved for you nearly three years ago and I managed to find another book from the Positron Series a month back. It was such a hassle to read and I could not place my finger on why. I kept on picking up the book and then putting it back down. The characters did not resonate at all with me and were mostly distasteful.
Towards the end, the story does pick up a little and there are some interesting side-stories, but nothing to do with the main plot line.
Why did every one of my fantasies turn into a trap?
Ms Foster has a secret identity. She has a nom-de-plume of Lousie DeLacourt and is known for writing trashy novels for the bored housewives of the world called Costume Gothics. The kisses are always chaste, the women always nearly escape from rape and murder and their caped hero is always there to rescue them.
She, herself, needs some escaping – from both a life as a unhappy housewife and also from a jealous lover and a count who turns up across the ocean to take her back to her subdued mistress role in England. Sounds like a good story! And it is!
This is one among the first books that Margaret Atwood wrote, closely after The Edible Woman.
Title: Lady Oracle
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Dimensions: 345 pages, 6.88 × 3.98 × 1.21 in
Published: March 26, 1999
Every myth is a version of the truth
And Joan Foster begins her tale with how she faked her murder and ran away to Italy. Sounds like Gone Girl right here! She looks back on her life and her choices that brought her to this specific point in her life and we get to grow up with her in a house where the mother was never happy, where the father was mostly absent and where a kind-hearted aunt would come in and help entertain the girl. The girl Joan used food as a form of punishment, of rebellion. She gorged on everything she could find, she grew to enormous proportions and loved to ignore any hint of weight loss or other catalogues left behind by her mother.
“In my experience, honesty and expressing your feelings could only lead to one thing: disaster”
When her aunt Lou passes away, she leaves behind a small inheritance for Joan with the condition that she would lose weight. A lot of it. Joan takes it as an offence at first – her partner in all the lovely times in her childhood is no longer around her and in her will she feels criticised for her weight. She goes on to loose it with anything she can do. She starves herself, drinks weight-loss pills, worries her mother again who now leaves cakes lying around the house to encourage her to eat again. In a heated argument, her mother picks up the knife and lightly stabs her in her arm. She runs away afterwards and goes to England.
I wanted to forget the past, but it refused to forget me; it waited for sleep, then cornered me.”
She quickly finds out two things: She has no viable skills to help her find suitable employment and after her sudden weight loss, she suddenly starts attracting male attention. She bumps into an older man, a Polish count who escaped the Nazis and who made a living by writing trashy novels with Nurses as main characters. Joan quickly ponders that no real nurses would ever have the time and patience to read such books but that women will always look for ways to escape in a fantasy world and maybe, just maybe, she can help.
She unwillingly becomes the count’s mistress and then gets resigned to this role. She can eat caviar from a tin and can write in her spare time. She soon starts earning more money than the count who took her in and he starts getting jealous and petty. She runs away when he threatens he will lock her in the house.
I believed in true loved, he believed in wives and mistresses, I believed in happy endings, he, in cataclysmic ones.
She goes to live with Arthur, a guy who was spreading flyers on the street about different causes he was interested in. One day she gets a surprise visit: her mother, crying, sitting in the middle of the living room! It was only a ghost and soon he gets a telegram from her father telling her that her mother had died.
She goes back to Canada, continues writing trashy novels and marries Arthur in a non-denominational ceremony.
“For true happiness, you must approach life with a feeling of reverence. Reverence for life, for those loved ones who are still with us and also for those who have gone before. Remember that all we do and all that is in our hearts is watched and recorded, and will someday be brought to light. Avoid deception and falsehood; treat your lives as a diary you are writing and that you know your loved one will someday read, if not here on this side, then on the other side where all the final reconciliations will take place.
Above all, you should love each other for what you are and forgive each other for what you are not. You have a beautiful aura, my children, you must work to preserve it.”
Her life is oddly domestic and the only adventure comes from secretly putting out novel after novel after novel. She studies her competition and decides to introduce a bit of supernatural in her books. For this, she goes into an induced trance-like state where she imagines going down a labyrinth holding a candle. This is a descent into her subconscious and upon her return she finds odd words scribbled on a piece of paper with a writing that was not like her own.
“She sits on the iron throne
She is one and three
The dark lady
the redgold lady
The blank lady
of blood, she who must be
Her glass wings are gone
She floats down the river
singing her last song”
She decides to try to sell the new poetry that came out and she finds a publishing house that was absolutely in love with it. She gets published, she has interviews lined up for her and a bright new future. Arthur, her husband, is not so thrilled. He feels cheated that she didn’t tell him about this book (he still has no ideas about the others) and thinks that the poem is about him.
We see Joan who now starts keeping even more secrets, can’t seem to reconcile her relationship with Arthur and starts a new one with an artist. Cheating couples and minor tragedies galore. Her relationship with the artist gets discovered (well after it’s ended) by a scummy journalist who was thinking about blackmailing her into sharing 20% of her profits with him.. She then decides to stage her disappearance with the help of two friends and run away to Italy, at the same time inventing a new persona for herself.
In 1966, before they were international sensations, Margaret Atwood and Charles Pachter teamed up to create Speeches for Doctor Frankenstein
“Natural philosophy is the genius that has regulated my fate” –
states Victor Frankenstein in the opening of his narrative. Through Frankenstein’s acquiring of this “natural philosophy”, we can already make a link to a broader view of society. His early access to these books of science to which he quickly becomes obsessed with comes solely through his social class – a privilege that the creature he creates does not have the luxury of. Through knowledge comes power, and this instant hierarchy through social class is a reflection of society in the 1800s, upper classes having access to the best education and through this, separating themselves from the lower classes. Shelley reflects this through victor’s narrative voice, which is eloquently spoken and rich in figurative language –
“I was like the Arabian who had been buried with the dead and found passage to life, aided only by one glimmering and seemingly ineffectual light” being a prime example of not only his fluency of articulation but cultural knowledge.
Furthermore, the creature’s discovery of books such as “paradise lost” when observing the “lower class” family in the woods educates him not on science but rather on humanity and the human condition.
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” says the tendentious Polonius of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to his impatient son, Laertes, “for loan oft loses both itself and friend / And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.” In other words, if you lend a friend some money and he doesn’t pay you back, you’ll end up being angry with him, and he with you. And if you borrow, you’ll be spending money that isn’t yours and that you haven’t earned, rather than managing within your income.
Margaret Atwood – Payback
She was thinking that for thousands of years, when people died – especially powerful people, especially people who were feared – the survivors had gone to a lot of trouble. They’d slit the throats of their best horses, they’d buried slaves and favourite wives alive, they’d poured blood into the earth. It hadn’t been mourning, it had been appeasement. They’d wanted to show their good will, however spurious, because they’d known the spirit of the dead one would be envious of them for still being alive.
Robber Bride – Margaret Atwood
A 2,400-year-old pit containing the remains of horses and chariots believed to belong to a member of an ancient royal household has been uncovered in China.
The Russians did it too:
Warrior king found in ancient Russian tomb: Scythian ruler was buried with riches, weapons and even his HORSE
I believe that even from ancient times, people were dedicated to the afterlife. This was perhaps because their mortal lives were relatively short; very few lived to beyond 40 years old. Mummifying their dead was a way to preserve and prepare them for the afterlife (mummies have been found from Egypt all the way to Peru and Siberia). Items that might be useful in the afterlife were also customarily buried with the dead including everyday objects, foods, beverages, jewelry, pets and servants. The people believed that life after death was similar to life on Earth, so they felt it was important to include all the daily necessities in their burial tombs. If items were not in the tomb, the dead would not have access to them in the afterlife. Some kings began filling their tombs long before their deaths to ensure they would have all they needed and wanted.
Most Mesopotamians (Sumerians) were buried in cemeteries. The bodies were laid on their backs in individual graves. The graves were sometimes reopened to place a second family member instead. Why did they do this? Who was generally the second family member? Maybe they placed the wife or husband with the first body. Alas, we do not have this information.
Some of the graves contained the bodies of dogs. It was common for pets to be buried just like their owners, with the same care that is. Meat bones have been found placed near the mouths of dogs to be food for the afterlife.
As time moved on, the people sacrificed were replaced with statues or symbolic items. This practice has continued until today when people are buried holding on a precious item (to them).
When you write, I feel as if you are drawing on me, drawing on my skin with the feather end of an old-fashioned goose pen. As if hundreds of butterflies have settled all over my face, and are softly opening and closing their wings. But underneath that is another feeling, a feeling of being wide-eyed awake and watchful. It’s like being wakened suddenly in the middle of the night, by a hand over your face, and you sit up with your heart going fast, and no one is there. And underneath that is another feeling still, a feeling of being torn open, not like a body of flesh, it is not painful as such, but like a peach. And not even torn open, but too ripe and splitting of its own accord. And inside the peach, there’s a stone
“When you can’t tell the difference between your own pleasure and your pain then you’re an addict.”
Part detective novel, part psychological thriller, Surfacing is the story of a talented woman artist who goes in search of her missing father on a remote island in northern Quebec. Setting out with her lover and another young couple, she soon finds herself captivated by the isolated setting, where a marriage begins to fall apart, violence and death lurk just beneath the surface, and sex becomes a catalyst for conflict and dangerous choices. Surfacing is a work permeated with an aura of suspense, complex with layered meanings, and written in brilliant, diamond-sharp prose. Here is a rich mine of ideas from an extraordinary writer about contemporary life and nature, families and marriage, and about women fragmented… and becoming whole.