Thursday 6 May 2010

Bluebeard's Egg - Margaret Atwood

As it is with so many others, it was The Handmaid's Tale that got me. A friend bought it for me for one Christmas, and I was hooked. Margaret Atwood has the kind of easy, loose style that I would sell body parts to be able to write myself, and when I found Bluebeard's Egg on sale in HMV, it was an easy purchase.

Bluebeard's Egg is a collection of short stories, mostly told in the present tense, and all revolving around the fragile and complex nature of relationships. One girl finds that her love life mirrors extreme weather conditions, while a middle-aged woman suffers apocalyptic visions during intimacy. The narrators are mostly female, while the title refers to a story one character must write for a creative writing class.

Many of the stories are set against a Canadian backdrop, which Atwood sketches in with a deft, practiced hand. I don't know that much about Atwood so I don't know how many details are gleaned from her own experience, but so many of the stories have a particular quality to them that I wonder if many are rooted in real life. Naturally, using a first person narrator often renders the narrative autobiographical, but there is a richness and depth that you wouldn't expect to find in pure fiction.

Not much actually seems to happen in the stories - some of them seem almost like flashbacks, while others take on a confessional tone. Still, Atwood is trying to capture a sensation, or a moment, and the subtext is layered to allow the reader to infuse the stories with their own experiences. Indeed, one particular story stands out for me since I can relate to the experience of floundering around in society, too entrenched in your own quirky personality to truly understand the expected patterns of behaviour.

They're all highly readable, and just the right length to communicate her point in one sitting. Perfect reading for tube journeys or lunchbreaks, I recommend Bluebeard's Egg for Atwood fans, and aspiring short story writers alike. It's like a class on short story writing in one book...


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