“You read and read the material and after you’ve read the twentieth article you can’t make any sense out of it anymore, and then you start thinking about the number of books that are published in any given year, in any given month, in any given week, and that’s just too much. Words,’ he said, looking in my direction finally but with his eyes strangely unfocussed, as though he was really looking at a point several inches beneath my skin, ‘are beginning to lose their meanings.” Margaret Atwood “The Edible Woman”.
One of my favourite books of all time is The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood. I am not sure how many times I have read it over the years, but it is one of those books I return to, thinking about it sometimes when I am ironing and wishing Duncan could appear (if you have read the book, you know who I mean). I have read a lot of Atwood’s works over the years and was delighted to go on Monday evening to hear her in conversation with the well-known Radio New Zealand journalist and presenter, Kim Hill.
The conversation mainly focussed on her latest work, The Testaments and, of course, The Handmaid’s Tale. While this was to be expected, I was slightly disappointed as I would have had a more wide ranging discussion. The conversation in the first half of the evening was a bit – the adjective that comes to mind is ‘jagged’. I would have thought that there would been some discussion beforehand about what questions were going to be asked, so that things flowed, but nevertheless it was interesting and Atwood came over as someone with a wicked sense of humour (and who could give Kim Hill a run for her money).
The second half of questions from the audience (you could ask by posting on Twitter with the #askAtwood tag) could have been a bit more interesting. For example, there was a really interesting question about how her feminist themes had changed over time. While of course times have changed since she was first writing (the heroine of The Edible Woman is expected to give up work when she gets married), and she is also older (hard to believe she is 80), it still would have been interesting to explore this a bit more. When I took a picture of the books of hers I own, I had a quick ten second glance at the summary synopsis on the back of a few, and while yes, all the books do focus on women, there is quite a change over the years of the themes of her books. Of course, this is to be expected in an author as prolific as Atwood, but still, her reticence in answering the question disappointed me a little.
It would also have been nice to explore her dystopian vision of the future in books such as Oryx and Crake and Years of the Flood, especially given Atwood’s passionate interest in nature. However, there was only a limited time for conversation and questions, and I guess, as always with these things, the focus tends to be on the new.
Anyway, it was wonderful to see one of my ‘literary heroines’ in person, and it is hard to believe she is 80. You can see Margaret Atwood on a scooter in Wellington here or visit @therealmargaretatwood on Instagram to see her visit to Zealandia and her scooter adventure.
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