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October 5, 2006

Margaret Atwood

Atwood is a polarizing force. Heather Mallick says that disliking her is an act of misogynism. I’m not sure I agree, but many people dislike her rather senselessly.

When The Guardian Books did a feature on Canadian fiction in which readers submitted their CanLit suggestions, the number of Canadians who responded solely to rubbish Atwood was quite astounding, most of them beginning their comments with “I’ve only read The Handmaid’s Tale, but…”

When The Globe ran a Margaret Atwood interview a few months back, I was fascinated to see the comments readers left (how much I detest readers’ comments on online newspapers is another story), admittedly mostly from men, glibly wanking something like “Yawn, Atwood, stupid b*tch, can’t write sh*te, CanLit is crap, typical of The Globe, wank wank wank, I’ve read Handmaid’s Tale and it wasn’t very good.” Etc.

When I was at the Vic booksale on Monday, two undergraduate-appearing students were sorting through the CanLit table. One held up a copy of Survival to her friend, and said, “How about this one?” The other, sounding like she was repeating something she was very sure of, said, “Oh no, not Atwood. Can’t stand her novels. She just writes the same book over and over again.” Her friend said, “Survival isn’t a novel.” The anti-Atwoodian said “oh” and then rapidly changed the subject.

I don’t understand how people can have such strong feelings for an author they’ve hardly read. (In addition, I must suggest that if you read any book in high school [ie Handmaids Tale, or Stone Angel for that matter], it doesn’t count as actually reading it and if you read it again, it will probably seem quite different). The undergrad’s assertion is so ridiculously off; the spectrum of Margaret Atwood is broad enough that there is probably something there to please everyone. And if one does give Atwood a fair try, and comes up unsatisfied, then why not just go read something else? Why all this time so devoted to badmouthing someone whose work so many other people clearly enjoy? Why not direct that energy toward championing a writer you do like?

A friend of mine maintains that anti-Atwoodism is simply a matter of jealousy, and I’m inclined to agree; the woman is indomitable. And I think Heather Mallick is a little right about the misogyny; it drives some men a little mad to see a woman so successful, a woman who will not be marginalized. The whole thing is typically Canadian in innumerable ways, and absolutely annoying.

2 thoughts on “Margaret Atwood”

  1. Crissy Calhoun says:

    i must admit to being a former Atwood hater. somehow i just couldn’t stand the Margarets, an opinion based on nothing more than their overexposure and hype, however deserved it is. at some point, i got over it — I think it was reading and loving Surfacing in university.

  2. Kerry says:

    And I must admit to being partial to writers called Margaret, and really if it was reading Surfacing that won you over to the other side, your hatred couldn’t have been all that intense. I am glad you got over it though!

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