Eccentric Musings (jakaEM)

"I have undergone sharp discipline which has taught me wisdom; and then, I have read more than you would fancy." Emily Brontë


still figuring this place out - Jen W

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Currently reading

Friend of My Youth
Alice Munro
Progress: 115/288 pages
Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature
Margaret Atwood
Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood I'm coming back to the authors who marked my literary 'coming of age': Vonnegut, Atwood. These two, for me, are the grand-daddy and grand-mammy of my bookish adolescence. They were life rafts held out by a couple of high school teachers. I grabbed them and held on. I simply cannot review either properly, so wrapped in nostalgia is my own point of view; so personal my reaction. I'm reading them now to see how they hold up and what they have to say to me 30 years later; and in Atwood's case, to pick up where I left off.

This one marked the point when I split from her pretty definitively. At the time, I couldn't deal with her movement away from what were female-centric stories grounded in a very concrete and recognizable reality (Blind Assassin was perhaps the first stumble I made; and Oryx and Crake did me in). So who knows what actually changed, and why these dystopian landscapes with their much broader themes are now appealing to me.

Could it be that I've recently left a soul-destroying career in -- gasp (please don't hate me) -- marketing? Could it be genocide in Darfur; earthquakes in Haiti and Chili and unstoppable oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico? Could it be police in full riot gear in my very own city? Sigh. Maybe my state of mind now is remarkably the same as it was in 1981--back when I was blockading and protesting and raging. And reading, reading, reading.

Could it be I need another life raft? Could it be I need hope? Funny place to look for it, here in Oryx and Crake.

This is the Atwood I remember loving, in so many ways: dense, DENSE stories full of symbolism, perfectly-rendered imagery, jam-packed with ideas, scathingly vicious about society going awry, science being co-opted whole scale by consumerism (anyone up for a game of Blood and Roses?). Arts and humanities (our moral centre) being reduced to brand management and advertising.

Everything here is horrifyingly real, and even more so because one can see its genesis in the here-and-now.

She gets it all in here...and she does it with prose, plot, character (broad strokes, I grant you), imagery that leaves one (me at least), absolutely stupefied by her sheer brilliance. Here:

"Across the clearing to the south comes a rabbit, hopping, listening, pausing to nibble at the grass with its gigantic teeth. It glows in the dusk, a greenish glow filched from the iridicytes of a deep-sea jellyfish in some long-ago experiment. In the half-light, the rabbit looks soft and almost translucent, like a piece of Turkish delight; as if you could suck off its fur like sugar."

I read Atwood with a kind of synesthesia:* I recall, in high school, handing in a book report on Surfacing as a painting. I could not express what I felt in words; I needed a visual medium. I still see her prose in pictures. Nothing has changed, and I see she's still up to her old tricks with colour symbolism.

Atwood's control is amazing. I picture her (more synesthesia) as a mad conductor, her corkscrew hair flying, her impish grin and twinkling eyes blazing. In front, an unruly orchestra smashing away on five or 18 or 326 different symphonies at the same time. There's the genetically-modified foods string section; over there, Internet kiddie porn on flutes and piccolos. Totalitarian regimes executing protestors on percussion, of course. Rat-a-tat-a-tat. Pigoons root around amidst the snare drums; giant green bunnies gnaw away at the spare viola bows. At any moment, they may turn on the orchestra and the audience will be treated to a bloodbath in the pit. All under the watchful and encouraging eye of the conductor, urging them on to a cataclysmic, orgiastic finale--only she can see where this music will end, if it ever will. Standing ovation. Curtain comes down. But the concert is not over.

Year of the Flood is next up (after I re-read Sirens of Titan).

ETA: *I realize she pokes fun at this very thing here in O&C, esp. in the women of Martha Graham scenes. So, I am an Atwood archetype, so what? :-)