Often, when I press the words of Margaret Atwood onto friends who may not have ventured into her compelling literary universe, I’m met with hesitance, despite the fact that she’s one of the greatest writers of all time. Her work is compelling and hugely readable, but she doesn’t write ‘easy reads’ which puts some off. Also, her variation of our future isn’t usually sweetness and light, as her avid fans will know. But it’d be a great shame to omit her from your reading lists. For much of her work is accessible, and ahead the overwhelming success of The Handmaid’s Tale TV adaptation – this writer has rounded up three of her favourite Atwood reads. It was tough to pick such a small number but new fans should love them, and old fans can marvel at her words once more:
The Heart Goes Last
Atwood’s gift has always been elevating the ordinary; taking the everyday relevance of normal life to another level, so much so that the reader has no choice but to become absorbed into her unique world. This is no exception in The Heart Goes Last. Here we meet Charmaine and Stan, living in the near future and victims of social and economic collapse; they’re broke, barely able to get by and living in a car. So, when they are offered a chance to live in a gated, self-sufficient community that still enjoys plentiful food, security, and employment, how could they refuse? Only, there’s a catch: to have this new life, they must not only leave behind everything they know but give up their freedom as well; every second month they must live in a prison cell. It’s a page-turner in every sense of the word; dark, riveting and a classic from this remarkable storyteller.
The Handmaid’s Tale
It’s one of Atwood’s most celebrated works and despite the talk surrounding its TV adaptation, so many I know haven’t read it. It seems a wonder it wasn’t been made in such a manner before, but it’s a brave few who tackle such a beloved and renowned novel. Atwood’s dystopia in The Handmaid’s Tale is a terrifying vision of oppression; set in the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States of America. There’s been a coup, and an all-powerful, Christian fundamentalist army has imposed a terrifying new order on its citizens. There’s no escape and rules that must be obeyed. It’s within this brutal regime that we meet Offred, a Handmaid, the literal property of a high-ranking “commander,” who must forcibly bear him children. That is her only function. It’s mesmerising, compelling and considered one of her best.
Atwood’s profound seventh novel sees Elaine, a Canadian painter of some renown who, at 50, has returned to her childhood city of Toronto for a retrospective of her work. A chance meeting with a former friend and eventual tormenter forces her to relieve the often painful, traumatic times of her youth as we learn she has never forgotten her childhood bully. Her world is lonely and, at times, terrifying, but this is a classic, and another unmissable story from the author.
What is your favourite Margaret Atwood novel? Tell us in the comments!