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The Snowman cometh

Elaine Showalter: Margaret Atwood

24 July 2003
Oryx and Crake 
by Margaret Atwood.
Bloomsbury, 378 pp., £16.99, May 2003, 0 7475 6259 8
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... MargaretAtwood’s 11th novel delivers two huge surprises: a male protagonist and an action-movie plot. Atwood has never written a novel from a male point of view before, and John Updike was among the reviewers who complained that the men in The Blind Assassin* were mysterious and unlovable. Rather, she is ...
1 July 1982
When things of the spirit come first 
by Simone de Beauvoir, translated by Patrick O’Brian.
Deutsch, 212 pp., £6.95, July 1982, 0 233 97462 8
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Union Street 
by Pat Barker.
Virago, 266 pp., £6.95, May 1982, 9780860682820
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Lady Oracle 
by Margaret Atwood.
Virago, 346 pp., £3.50, June 1982, 0 86068 303 6
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Bodily Harm 
by Margaret Atwood.
Cape, 302 pp., £7.50, June 1982, 0 224 02016 1
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Hearts: A Novel 
by Hilma Wolitzer.
Harvester, 324 pp., £6.95, June 1982, 9780710804754
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by Amanda Hemingway.
Faber, 236 pp., £7.95, June 1982, 0 571 11875 5
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December Flower 
by Judy Allen.
Duckworth, 176 pp., £7.95, May 1982, 0 7156 1644 7
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... of Union Street is original, and each of its characters gets a good enough run. But the self-imposed limitations of the structure are always in evidence. There is no doubt at all about the Canadian MargaretAtwood’s being a novelist. Both Lady Oracle (first published in 1976 and now appearing in paperback) and Bodily Harm are splendid demonstrations of the contemporary novelist’s craft. To read them ...


Anita Brookner

3 February 1983
Where I Used to Play on the Green 
by Glyn Hughes.
Gollancz, 192 pp., £7.95, January 1982, 0 575 02997 8
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by John Hawkes.
Chatto, 212 pp., £8.50, January 1983, 0 7011 3908 0
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Ancient Enemies 
by Elizabeth North.
Cape, 230 pp., £7.95, November 1982, 0 224 02052 8
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Dancing Girls 
by Margaret Atwood.
Cape, 240 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 224 01835 3
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Master of the Game 
by Sidney Sheldon.
Collins, 495 pp., £8.95, January 1983, 0 00 222614 6
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... truths that may colour an entire existence. ‘Everyone thinks writers must know more about the inside of the human head, but that is wrong. They know less, that’s why they write.’ So says MargaretAtwood in her collection of stories, Dancing Girls. They know less, but she might have added that they find out more; they might wish they had not had to, but there is no going back on what they have ...

I love her to bits

Deborah Friedell: ‘The Testaments’

7 November 2019
The Testaments 
by Margaret Atwood.
Chatto, 419 pp., £20, September 2019, 978 1 78474 232 4
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... ministers cruel, particularly to refugees – whereas James’s government prudently welcomes in anyone it can exploit to empty bedpans. I once imagined that The Children of Men was a sequel to MargaretAtwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), just set a few years later, and in a less benighted country. In Atwood’s novel, it’s still possible to see a pregnant woman, but she’s a ‘magic ...

Our Little Duckie

Thomas Jones: Margaret Atwood

17 November 2005
The Penelopiad 
by Margaret Atwood.
Canongate, 199 pp., £12, October 2005, 1 84195 645 7
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... MargaretAtwood’s new novel is a reworking of the Odyssey, told largely from Penelope’s point of view. The Penelopiad is presented by its publisher as a retelling of a myth, but it isn’t quite that. The story ...

Then You Are Them

Fredric Jameson: Atwood

10 September 2009
The Year of the Flood 
by Margaret Atwood.
Bloomsbury, 434 pp., £18.99, September 2009, 978 0 7475 8516 9
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... not to speak of money itself. Not coincidentally, it has also been the one science-fictional sub-genre in which more purely ‘literary’ writers have felt free to indulge: Huxley, Orwell, even the MargaretAtwood of The Handmaid’s Tale. And not unpredictably, the results of these efforts have been as amateurish as analogous experiments in the realm of the detective or crime story (from Dostoevsky to ...


Dinah Birch

19 January 1989
Cat’s Eye 
by Margaret Atwood.
Bloomsbury, 421 pp., £12.95, January 1989, 0 7475 0304 4
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by Margaret Atwood.
Cape, 103 pp., £5.95, October 1988, 0 224 02303 9
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John Dollar 
by Marianne Wiggins.
Secker, 234 pp., £10.95, February 1989, 0 436 57080 7
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Broken Words 
by Helen Hodgman.
Virago, 121 pp., £11.95, February 1989, 9781853810107
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... The really basic questions – what we are to eat today, what will happen to the children – have always been for women to answer. It has become clear that women’s novels can answer them, too. MargaretAtwood knows all about the harassing particularities of family life, and has written about them with a memorable edge of resentment. Her high standing is largely derived from the way in which she has ...

Dry Eyes

John Bayley

5 December 1991
Jump and Other Stories 
by Nadine Gordimer.
Bloomsbury, 257 pp., £13.99, October 1991, 0 7475 1020 2
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Wilderness Tips 
by Margaret Atwood.
Bloomsbury, 247 pp., £14.99, September 1991, 0 7475 1019 9
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... a herbivore. Shocking contrasts or disagreeable details are today’s stock-in-trade, but the writer’s art is to use them without insistence or inner glee. Talented women like Nadine Gordimer and MargaretAtwood are very good at this. Both have styles that are frostily kind, sharp and dry-eyed, and the Atwood stories in particular remind me of those by an expert in the art from a previous generation ...

Making poison

Patrick Parrinder

20 March 1986
The Handmaid’s Tale 
by Margaret Atwood.
Cape, 324 pp., £9.95, March 1986, 0 224 02348 9
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... Fear is a powerful stimulant,’ says Offred, the heroine of MargaretAtwood’s chilling tale of the near future. Trained at the Rachel and Leah Centre and habited in red, Offred belongs to a quasi-religious order of ‘sacred vessels’, ‘two-legged wombs’ whose task it ...

Dying Falls

John Lanchester

23 July 1987
Temporary Shelter 
by Mary Gordon.
Bloomsbury, 231 pp., £11.95, July 1987, 0 7475 0006 1
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Bluebeard’s Egg 
by Margaret Atwood.
Cape, 287 pp., £10.95, June 1987, 0 224 02245 8
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The Native 
by David Plante.
Chatto, 122 pp., £9.95, May 1987, 0 7011 3247 7
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The March of the Long Shadows 
by Norman Lewis.
Secker, 232 pp., £10.95, May 1987, 0 436 24620 1
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... as the very existence of the earth seems more fragile and contingent, the writer becomes more passionately committed to the most private and hidden areas of human life. (One of the stories in MargaretAtwood’s new collection treats very similar imaginings of nuclear war, and we learn in an aside that the central male character of David Plante’s new novel works on a science project related to ...

Royal Classic Knitwear

Margaret​ Anne Doody: Iris and Laura

5 October 2000
The Blind Assassin 
by Margaret Atwood.
Bloomsbury, 521 pp., £16.99, September 2000, 0 7475 4937 0
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... MargaretAtwood’s tenth novel is both familiar and new. As it is an Atwood novel, we get eggs, a ravine, shit, snow, an ethereal double or sisterly doppelgänger, a bridge, a river, an act of violence – images and themes from her earlier fiction metamorphosed. The Blind ...
22 May 1980
How far can you go? 
by David Lodge.
Secker, 244 pp., £5.95, April 1980, 0 436 25661 4
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Life before Man 
by Margaret Atwood.
Cape, 317 pp., £5.95, March 1980, 0 224 01782 9
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Desirable Residence 
by Lettice Cooper.
Gollancz, 191 pp., £5.50, April 1980, 0 575 02787 8
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A Month in the Country 
by J.L. Carr.
Harvester, 110 pp., £6.50, April 1980, 0 85527 328 3
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... by the pleasure principle – not as an illicit indulgence, but as the proper spring of action. How far this is an improvement David Lodge does not profess to know. It is not clear what the title of MargaretAtwood’s Life Before Man is meant to imply, but here we are back with the zombies and automatons of modern fiction. In her earlier novel Surfacing, the setting in the northern Canadian wilds is of ...
28 November 2002
Doctor Glas 
by Hjalmar Söderberg, translated by Paul Britten Austin.
Harvill, 143 pp., £10, November 2002, 1 84343 009 6
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The Serious Game 
by Hjalmar Söderberg, translated by Eva Claeson.
Marion Boyars, 239 pp., £8.99, September 2001, 0 7145 3061 1
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... that was first published in Swedish in 1912 and has not previously appeared in English; Doctor Glas is a reissue of a 1963 version of the 1905 original, with the addition of an admiring preface by MargaretAtwood. A play, Gertrud, was filmed by Carl Dreyer; Doctor Glas has also been filmed; I don’t quite understand why these books and others of his – Martin Birck’s Youth, from 1901, and ...

Offered to the Gods

Frank Kermode: Sacrifice

5 June 2008
Culture and Sacrifice: Ritual Death in Literature and Opera 
by Derek Hughes.
Cambridge, 313 pp., £45, October 2007, 978 0 521 86733 7
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... This extraordinary book examines the practice and the cultural contexts of human sacrifice, more or less from its speculative prehistoric beginnings to MargaretAtwood’s recent novel The Blind Assassin. To succeed in such an enterprise an author must be fantastically well read, expert in the disposition of large tracts of material in various languages, some of it ...

I scribble, you write

Tessa Hadley: Women Reading

26 September 2013
The Woman Reader 
by Belinda Jack.
Yale, 330 pp., £9.99, August 2013, 978 0 300 19720 4
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Curious Subjects 
by Hilary Schor.
Oxford, 271 pp., £41.99, January 2013, 978 0 19 992809 5
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... in correspondence with a Zurich theologian asks him to ‘excuse the more than feminine boldness of me who, girlish and unlearned as I am, presume to write to a man who is the father of learning.’ Margaret Cavendish in her 1656 autobiography calls her own work ‘scribbling’ as opposed to her husband’s ‘writing’. The operations of this cultural cringe are intricate. How much is simply the ...

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