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In the Spotlight: Margaret Atwood, b. 1939

We enter October with a brand new release from Margaret Atwood. The Heart Goes Last comments on capitalism, features sex-robots, and challenges the notion of free will. Atwood’s American protagonists are forced to scavenge for food and sell blood in a bid to stay alive.

Margaret Atwood is a Canadian novelist, critic, essayist and activist. Her career began right after her graduation from Victoria College of the University of Toronto in 1961, when she published her first collection of poetry.

Most of her novels fall under the category of speculative fiction, particularly due to her understanding of science and its potentials. The popular sci-fi trilogy MaddAdam takes inspiration from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as hacker and biogeneticist Glenn works to create a new breed of human, wiping out most of civilisation and leaving survivors to fight amongst each other. If you’re a fan of The Hunger Games or Blade Runner this is definitely a series you should get your hands on.

Her astonishingly vast understanding of physics as well as experience in biology due to her father’s role as an entomologist have allowed her to forge a strong and successful connection between science and literature, distinguishing her from other authors. Hailed a feminist classic, The Handmaid’s Tale is probably Atwood’s most venerated novel. This year it also celebrates it’s 30th anniversary. Set in oppressive America, a new regime forces Offred to become a Handmaid, providing children for infertile mothers; the novel is thematically similar to Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, where children are raised to become organ donors. A witness to the dissolution of her country, Offred uses memory to escape the brutality of capitalism under America’s religious fundamentalists. 

Feminism is a prominent issue within Atwood’s work. The Edible Woman explores female body image and transformation. In Cat’s Eye, her most autobiographical novel to date, successful artist Elaine Risley is reminiscent of her life and presents her victimisation by others with painful honesty, exposing the cruelty of little girls. Atwood is a humanist and a civil rights activist, supporting the rights of women and prisoners, as well as educating aspiring writers. Her work with Amnesty International has influenced her work, namely True Stories, a collection of poetry, and Bodily Harm, a novel. In 1986 she won the Ida Nudel Humanitarian Award and in 1987 she received a silver medal from the council for advancement and support of education.

Atwood once wrote, “the answers you get from literature depend on the questions you pose”, yet her highly provocative novels cause you to question your own self without necessarily having posed a question like this ever before.

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