Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. This week’s topic is top ten books for readers who like ________. I’m filling in the blank with “Margaret Atwood.”
Margaret Atwood is possibly my favorite author ever, but a lot of people say that her writing style is an acquired taste. It is different from what many readers are used to. Her stories are dense, detail-packed, and character-driven. She likes to play with structure, so most of her books have a ton of flashbacks, flashforwards, and other structural oddities. A few of them even have stories within stories. Sometimes, weird things happen without much explanation. These are difficult books to read quickly. If you go too fast, you’ll miss something amazing.
Atwood’s work is totally worth reading, though. She can develop characters and write description better than any other author I’ve ever read. I recommend her books to everybody.
She writes novels, poetry, short stories, nonfiction, and children’s books, but this list is just going to focus on her novels. So, if you’re new to this author, here are a few of her “easier” books to get you started.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now . . .
Why I love it: Best dystopia ever. Awesome world-building.
The MaddAddam Trilogy (Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, MaddAddam)
Set in a darkly plausible future shaped by plagues, floods, and genetic engineering, these three novels take us from the end of the world to a brave new beginning. Thrilling, moving, a triumph of imagination, this trilogy confirms the ultimate endurance of humanity, community, and love.
Why I love it: Second-best dystopia ever. The humor in this trilogy is surprising. It kind of sneaks up on you when you’re not expecting it.
Cat's Eye is the story of Elaine Risley, a controversial painter who returns to Toronto, the city of her youth, for a retrospective of her art. Engulfed by vivid images of the past, she reminisces about a trio of girls who initiated her into the fierce politics of childhood and its secret world of friendship, longing, and betrayal. Elaine must come to terms with her own identity as a daughter, a lover, an artist, and a woman—but above all she must seek release from her haunting memories. Disturbing, hilarious, and compassionate, Cat's Eye, is a breathtaking novel about a woman grappling with the tangled knots of her life.
Why I love it: Realistic child characters.
Margaret Atwood takes us back in time and into the life of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the nineteenth century. Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer, the wealthy Thomas Kinnear, and of Nancy Montgomery, his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence after a stint in Toronto's lunatic asylum, Grace herself claims to have no memory of the murders.
Dr. Simon Jordan, an up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness, is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to her story, from her family's difficult passage out of Ireland into Canada, to her time as a maid in Thomas Kinnear's household. As he brings Grace closer and closer to the day she cannot remember, he hears of the turbulent relationship between Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery, and of the alarming behavior of Grace's fellow servant, James McDermott. Jordan is drawn to Grace, but he is also baffled by her. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories? Is Grace a female fiend, a bloodthirsty femme fatale? Or is she a victim of circumstances?
Alias Grace is a beautifully crafted work of the imagination that reclaims a profoundly mysterious and disturbing story from the past century. With compassion, and unsentimental lyricism, and her customary narrative virtuosity, Margaret Atwood mines the often convoluted relationships between men and women, and between the affluent and those without position. The result is her most captivating, disturbing, and ultimately satisfying work since The Handmaid's Tale—in short, vintage Atwood.
Why I love it: The end of this story is just weird. Very, very weird.
The Blind Assassin
The Blind Assassin opens with these simple, resonant words: "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge." They are spoken by Iris, whose terse account of her sister's death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But just as the reader expects to settle into Laura’s story, Atwood introduces a novel-within-a-novel. Entitled The Blind Assassin, it is a science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in dingy backstreet rooms. When we return to Iris, it is through a 1947 newspaper article announcing the discovery of a sailboat carrying the dead body of her husband, a distinguished industrialist. Brilliantly weaving together such seemingly disparate elements, Atwood creates a world of astonishing vision and unforgettable impact.
Why I love it: It’s part science fiction and part historical fiction. That’s awesome.
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.
Why I love it: A beautiful setting and a main character who is slowly going insane.
Joan Foster is a secret writer of Gothic romances. When her outrageously feminist book, Lady Oracle, becomes a bestseller, everything in her life changes.
To escape her deteriorating marriage, her affair with an artist, and the criminal urges of a fan, Joan embarks on an act that is at once her most daring and creative: she fakes her own death and begins a new life.
With a much-needed respite from her life, Joan Foster begins to examine it . . .
Why I love it: Realistic and relatable characters.