Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite authors so a chance to take a look inside her writing process was one that I couldn't pass up. For fans of Atwood's work, this book is a treasure trove: a collection of book reviews and obituaries she has been asked to read, transcriptions of lectures and talks she has given and musings on her own novels.
It's often the book reviews that are most fascinating, giving, as they do, an insight into what Atwood thinks is good writing. The range of material here is wide - from HG Wells's The Island of Dr Moreau to obscure foreign-language titles that have only just made their way to an English translation. Atwood's familiarity with the titles is testament to an almost ferocious appetite for reading, something that she mentions time and again. It's easy to get the impression that reading got Atwood through some tough times, especially as a child, and as a fellow book obsessive this is something I can relate to. Where would we be without our trusty tales?
Atwood's thorough reviews have certainly taught me to look beneath the surface of a book to the possibly endless layers beneath.
The book also gives an idea of the extent of Atwood's friendships. Many of the obituaries she has been asked to write are for personal friends. This lends a bitter-sweet tone to the obits, for while Atwood conveys admirably well a celebration of a life lived, there is a certain amount of personal sadness at a good friend lost.
Possibly the most interesting pieces for fans of Atwood's work and for anyone hoping to follow her are those on writing itself. She has given many talks on this subject over the years, as well as written various thoughts on it. These pieces won't teach you how to become an author, but they do give an interesting insight into how Atwood became an author.
All the pieces are well-written with Atwood's customary wit and a certain amount of self-deprecation that leads me to believe Atwood to be a thoroughly charming person in the flesh. A must-read for anyone with more than a passing interest in Atwood's novels.