Monday, June 18, 2007

The Tent

Margaret Atwood's The Tent was released in January 2006, just a few months after The Penelopiad. I'm a big fan of Atwood (although I do confess I found the Booker Prize-winning Blind Assassin impenetrable and didn't like Oryx and Crake) and read The Penelopiad right after it came out. It's excellent - a sort of re-telling of the Iliad from Penelope's point of view. It's told in classic Greek format, complete with a chorus. The Tent is a collection of poems and very short stories (nothing much longer than 4 pages), all previously published. It includes a few drawings by Atwood. Both books a beautifully bound and have wonderful graphic cover art.

My favorite Atwood book is The Handmaid's Tale, and I love anything that comes close to it, and almost all the little stories in The Tent fit the bill. Atwood addresses feminine identity, colonialism, nationalism, politics, disaster... As you might imagine, it can get pretty depressing - one story, "Take Charge" (the title is more of a warning than anything else) is the same 5 conversations between a leader and his underling throughout history. The underling explains that (the ship/the tank/the missile control system/the futuristic makorin/the post-apocalyptic cave) is under attack and the leader does some ineffectual shouting before they surely die.

But other stories are more uplifting - the hilarious "Encouraging the Young":
Here I am, happy to help! I'll pass round the encouragement, a cookie's worth for each. There you are, young! What a big, stupid, clumsy mess like the one you just made - let me rephrase that - what is an understandable human error, but a learning experience? Try again! Follow your dream! You can do it!

Most stories I greedily read two or three times, admiring her story-telling inventiveness and relishing Atwood's brilliant turns of phrase, like this one:
(And consider: It is loss to which everything flows, absence in which everything flowers. It is you, not we, who have always been the children of the gods.)

Here's an excerpt from one of my favorites: Life Stories.


kbmulder said...

I will have to check these out. I also loved the Handmaid's Tale. We read it in Intro to Women's Studies in undergrad.

I have never read any of her other books.

Bookgirl said...

Hi - Thanks for visiting my blog the other day. I am also a big Margaret Atwood fan and The Handmaid's Tale is my favorite. I haven't read any of her latest books though but I really need to! :)