Friday, November 14, 2008

A Superior Form of Authenticity

The Alexandria Campus Book Club read Margaret Atwood's collection of short stories-cum-novella.

Several of the stories/ chapters might call to mind previous Book Club selections.

'My last Duchess', for instance, in which the teenage protagonist reads and critiques Browning's poem in light of her own experience, is reminscent of Reading Lolita in Tehran.

'Moral Disorder' , 'Monopoly' and 'White Horse' find the principal characters decamped to a bohemian rural paradise trying their amateur hands at farming, recalling the (again) fashionable back-to-nature organic movement at the heart of Omnivores Dilema.

Atwood says of her work that it is "not autobiography. If it was, people would say I was lying. It's the paradox of our times. If you put fiction on the front, they say, 'Ah, but we know it's really about you,' and if you put autobiography, they say, 'Well, of course she's trying to make herself look good and she has left this out and left that out.'" A tension between autobiography and fiction, the real and the contrived confronted previously in The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things.

Family relationships pervade the stories. Relationships between parents (present and absent) and children bring to mind both A Hole In The Earth as well as The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears. Those between siblings recall Atonement.

Harold Bloom once said all literature profited or suffered from an "anxiety of influence". he probably didn't think of his criticism in the conext of the Alex Book Club reading list, but it's true nevertheless.