The Handmaid’s Tale

When Atwood began to write her dystopian masterpiece The Handmaid’s Tale in 1984, a reactionary movement against the liberalism of the 70s was underway. This movement was the inspiration for Gilead, her futuristic and totalitarian society set in the former United States. Atwood based much of what is in the novel on 17th-century Puritanism, depicting a patriarchal regime that deprives women of their most basic rights. Terrifyingly, Atwood ‘decided not to put anything in that somebody somewhere hadn't already done.’ The award-winning TV adaptation is now in its third season and serves as a allegory for the current US administration. Despite being over 40 years since publication, The Handmaid’s Tale has never been more relevant.

Hag-seed

Hag-seed sees Atwood tackle Shakespeare’s The Tempest, written as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare initiative which celebrates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare where acclaimed authors adapt his works into novel form. This oh-so-meta reworking focuses on Felix, a reimagined Prospero, the artistic director at a theatre who is attempting to stage his own fantastical version of the play as revenge against rivals. Hag-seed is a successful tribute to the Bard’s original that will delight fans, but is intriguing enough as a stand-alone for those new to his works. Laced with Atwood’s signature humour and a bit of mischief, Hag-seed was longlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize For Fiction in 2017. 

Bodily Harm

Atwood’s fifth novel focuses on young journalist Rennie Wilford, who, in an attempt to escape trauma and recuperate after illness, travels to the Caribbean but quickly enters a world where nothing is what it seems. Oscillating between the past and future and often told in fragments, Bodily Harm is quintessential Atwood – a multi-layered story that interweaves political turmoil with personal crisis, while seeking a brighter future. 

Life Before Man

A multi-perspective novel, Life Before Man depicts a decaying Toronto-based marriage and the consequences of our protagonists’ extramarital affairs. When Elizabeth and Nate resort to cheating, they do so with a clear disregard for each other’s feelings. Into the fray come lovers, past and present with each chapter presented from a particular character's perspective. Atwood decidedly chooses to write flawed, and at times unlikeable, individuals while enticing the reader to see both sides of this muddled relationship: male, female, right, wrong and everything in-between. Don’t expect a happy ending, but do expect Atwood to succinctly crystallize the banality of modern life with terrifying ease. 

Bluebeard’s Egg and Other Stories

First published in 1983 before The Handmaid’s Tale, Bluebeard’s Egg and Other Stories is a collection of 12 short stories that symbolically explore the dynamics of relationships. From the politics of sex to the suffering of betrayal, Atwood expertly examines the complexity of human connections in an often autobiographical manner. Told with unexpected humour, this short story collection is the perfect entry point for readers looking for a more bite-sized version of her works. 

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