Margaret Atwood: Guiding My Evolution as a Reader and Writer

The first time I heard about Margaret Atwood was when I was 18. In fact, that was the first time my eyes were opened to contemporary authors and their works. And the first time I experienced a Margaret Atwood book was the first time I felt strong hatred for a writer. My first Atwood book was Surfacing. It threw me off my game. It even planted a seed of dislike for reading.

Let me set the context a bit by saying that I believe that any book that deals with politics and nationalism should come with a prominent note or warning saying “This book is strictly for those who understand politics and not dimwits.” Yes, I am perfectly comfortable saying that I am a dimwit where politics are concerned. As this is not a post about my challenge with understanding books that have political undercurrents, let me leave this topic alone. Suffice to say that as the book dealt with this topic, it dragged down my morale.

A little bit about Surfacing: (In other words, why I hated Atwood):

Surfacing just pushed me into a world of madness and craziness that I was not ready for. It was an unsettling and dark journey (in an unpleasant way) as I went through the book. The narrator’s thoughts and feelings are so out of the ordinary and unusual that it just became extremely overwhelming. And adding fuel to the angry fire in me was the Kafkaesque ending of the book. That nailed the coffin shut in my head. No more Atwood.

Well, that was true for all of 5 years. One day I was browsing through a Crosswords Bookstore and came upon this shelf with Atwood’s books. It looked like it was challenging me to pick up something and feel the displeasure again. I kind of gave in. I mean, what did I have to lose? Hate the writer? I already did. Now what could be worse? So I gave in and picked up “The Handmaid’s Tale”. It had a depressing looking cover, alright. But the synopsis kind of touched me. Anyway, I wasn’t ready for it, so I put it back on the shelf. Behind it was “Negotiating with the Dead”.

I picked it up and thought to myself “well, at least the cover is honest about what I assume is a book full of morbidity”. And then I read the summary which I vaguely remember, said that was notes the author wrote for a lecture and was about her journey as a writer. That word “writer” stuck a cord with me. That’s what I wanted to be someday. Nevertheless, my decision to take the book home was only born of the fact that I did not find one other book that I wanted to buy. Not one.


I’m guessing you would have guessed by now that this post is about the evolution of my sentiments for a writer – a turn of events that I would not have any other way. So, I went home, pulled out the book and before I knew it I was down 50 pages (yes, a clichéd admission). And I was scared. I was scared I would finish the book, and would never ever get to re-experience the excitement and happiness I was feeling, if I finished it.

What is the book about, and why did I feel this way? Simply put, the book is about a writer and her experiences and evolution as a writer. That’s it. But it’s also more. Because of Atwood’s unique style of writing (or narration in this case, because these are lecture notes). And I simply fell head over heels in love in that one day with an author that I hated that morning. It’s for this reason that I decided that I will not finish the book at one go. No. I want to savour it. When I doubt myself as a writer, and when I go through moments of surrender, I pick up this book. And it gives me a dash of hope and a stir of happy feelings that I would not trade for the world.


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