In any given moment, I could answer this a different way: what is my favourite Margaret Atwood?
Both Second Words and The Door stand out for me, as early ventures into forms which I didn’t think I enjoyed reading (essays and poems).
And when I was beginning to seriously write short stories, I studied the stories in Bluebeard’s Egg with a writer friend who was also interested in the form, so this was my first close reading of a text from the perspective of mechanics (which didn’t interfere one bit with my admiration and enjoyment – both increased).
She is also one of the first writers whose works were designated “hardcover required” for me, in a time when one routinely waited a year and often longer for a less expensive paperback edition and when that meant seriously slashing my grocery budget for the pleasure of consuming stories.
So, the question of a favourite is a challenge to answer and undoubtedly my response would be different even if it were to be posed next week rather than today.
With that in mind, today’s answer is The Blind Assassin.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about the degree of difficulty in a novel: what is too much, or too little?
Partly this is on my mind because of the chatter about Anna Burns’ recent Man Booker Prize win for Milkman, reputedly a challenging novel.
And partly because of the varying responses I have seen to Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black, a novel whose careful crafting, all its layers and echoes, can be easily overlooked in favour of reading for story.
Finally, partly because I love puzzle novels but I also want to feel some kind of a connection, even if it is only with a sense of feeling disconnected which is shared by a character.
The Blind Assassin is one of the first instances in which I can recall feeling all-aswim with the story at one point and still managing to negotiate my way through that disorientation.
It begins simply enough, with a narrative which pulls readers into the past, into the story of the Chase sisters. But, eventually, there are not only bits of the past to reconcile with the present-day narrative, but also glimpses of the future. And, even more disturbingly, a future invented, by a character who has been inspired by reading pulp science-fiction novels and stories (much as young Margaret Atwood, herself, was inspired).
These layers of storytelling are intimately and skilfully connected, and what a flush, what a thrill, to have moved from confusion to comprehension with The Blind Assassin.
And, now that I live in the city in which the story opens, I really should reread.
And marvel at it all over again.
And what is your favourite Margaret Atwood?
The Schedule for Margaret Atwood Reading Month:
November 1: Beginnings (launched here and also by Naomi)
November 8: Cover Images (hosted by Naomi at Consumed by Ink)
Today: Favourites (hosted here)
November 22: Quotations (hosted by Naomi at Consumed by Ink)
November 29: Endings (hosted by Marcie at Buried in Print)
November 30: A Round-Up of links collected from participants
Remember: These weekly themes are in addition to any book, story, poem, essay, interview, article, etc. you want to read (or watch) over the month and discuss on your blogs or on Twitter. #MARM