Reading lists

The essential Margaret Atwood reading list

Dystopia, poetry, essays – where do you start with the Booker winner's work? Our handy list will guide you.

With an impressive body of work spanning decades, where do you even begin with Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood?

Renowned for her feminist slant, her Handmaids – from the 1985 novel The Handmaid's Tale – have become a global symbol of resistance against the patriarchy and have inspired activism across the world.

To help you get started, we’ve compiled the essential Margaret Atwood reading list, which spans fiction, poetry and critical essays, meaning there really is something for everyone.


Published in 1969, Atwood’s first novel The Edible Woman established her as a significant literary figure and leading voice in dystopian fiction. Described by Atwood as a protofeminist work, The Edible Woman tells the story of Marian, a young woman preparing for her wedding day, who finds herself unable to stomach her reality. A funny and engaging novel, Atwood expertly explores love, gender stereotypes and the desire to be consumed, body and soul.

Surfacing (1972)

An all-encompassing novel that grapples with the nature of identity, Surfacing is a homecoming story. In this novel, our unnamed protagonist is returning home, accompanied by her lover and two friends, to investigate the disappearance of her father. On the journey home, she finds herself flooded with memories of her childhood, the island where she grew up, and events that shaped her. Deftly tackling themes of separation and, of course, female narratives, Surfacing was adapted for the silver screen in 1981.

Cats Eye (1988)

Set in post-war Toronto, Cat’s Eye delves into the shadowy depths of the cruelty young women can inflict on each other. The story centres itself around Elaine Risley, a painter celebrated as one of Canada’s foremost feminist artists. Upon returning to her hometown of Toronto, she finds herself haunted by memories of her childhood… and the girls who were her closest friends and her tormentors. Cat’s Eye is most of all a thoughtful and relatable exploration of friendship dynamics – you’d never believe such cunning games could be so skilfully executed by children…

Also set in Toronto, The Robber Bride is a breathtaking story of power and betrayal, as three women come together to confront Zenia – the woman they believed was dead. Our three main characters, Tony, Roz and Charis, all believe that Zenia wronged them, may years ago, by stealing their would-be husbands. But as they spend more time digging through the past, they find themselves wondering whose version of the story is true: their own or Zenia’s? The Robber Bride as a captivating commentary on our personal histories and how our friends – and our own memories – can betray us.

Alias Grace (1996)

The inspiration for the major Netflix series, Alias Grace is the compelling tale of a nineteenth-century murderess who emigrated from Ireland in search of a better life in Canada. Based around the true story of Grace Marks, one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the 1800s, Atwood’s work asks the reader to judge Marks’s case. Was she a female fiend set on murdering her mistress? A femme fatale using her wiles for the worst? Or a weak and unwilling victim doing the bidding of a dangerous man? This potent tale of sexuality, cruelty and mystery was shortlisted for the 1996 Booker Prize and the 1997 Orange Prize for Fiction.

Atwood’s next foray into historical fiction came at the dawn of the millennium with The Blind Assassin, which won the Booker Prize in 2000 and was shortlisted for the 2001 Orange Prize for Fiction. With some of the most important events in Canadian history forming the backdrop, this novel travels from present day back to the 1930s from the point of view of our protagonist, Iris. Filled with humour and dark drama, this spellbinding read is a novel within a novel.

No stranger to near-future dystopian fiction, Oryx and Crake – the first in the MaddAddam trilogy – is another frighteningly prescient novel by Atwood. In this novel we meet Jimmy, friend of bioengineer Crake, who destroyed the human race. Fortunately for Jimmy, Crake left behind the Crakers, peaceful biologically engineered humanoids who keep him company in a post-apocalyptic world. A tale of doomed lovers and a global pandemic, Oryx and Crake received a Booker Prize nomination. It was followed by two sequels, The Year of the Flood (2009) and MaddAddam (2013).

Published as part of the first set of books in Canongate’s Myth Series, The Penelopiad reimagines the events of Homer’s Odyssey from the point of view of his wife, Penelope. Infused with Atwood’s distinct voice, her Penelope is witty and irreverent. It is also a continuation of Atwood’s own fascination with mythology, which influenced works such as The Robber Bride and some of her poetry. Chiefly, The Penelopiad is about the power of myth and its ability to anchor us to our history and our community, for better or worse. Accessible and streetwise, this is a great entry point for fans of Madeline Miller and Jennifer Saint.

Winner of the Kitschies Red Tentacle Award, The Heart Goes Last tells the story of Stan and Charmaine, a married couple struggling to stay afloat in the midst of economic and social collapse. When they spot an advertisement for a ‘social experiment’ which promises a roof over their heads and stable employment, they find themselves drawn into a prison of their own making. Sinister and engrossing, The Heart Goes Last imagines a wild west of a world where the lawful willingly enter captivity and the lawless roam free.

Scribbler Moon (2114)

We’d love to tell you all about Scribbler Moon but this top-secret novel will remain under lock and key until the year 2114. Scribbler Moon was written as part of the Future Library Project, an initiative conceived by Scottish artist Katie Paterson, which involves creating a literary art capsule containing 100 original works. It’s currently being kept in trust in Oslo. Commenting on the project, Atwood said: ‘We really don’t know who’ll be reading it. We’re also dealing with the morphing of language over time. Which words that we use today will be different, archaic, obsolete? Which new words will have entered the language?’



Atwood has written many poems over the last few decades. Eating Fire brings together three of her most notable collections – Poems 1965–1975, Poems 1976–1986 and Morning in the Burned House – in one volume. What can you expect to find within? These poems span Atwood’s world, from bus trips and postcards to the wilderness and the fires that burn within us. As you’d expect with Atwood, she tackles themes such as the politics of sex, the hidden darkness of fairy tales, and what it means to be a woman.

Short story collections

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